UPDATE: A YOUNG Sunshine Coast model, a prominent modelling agency and a child psychologist have weighed into a heated debate about how young is too young to enter the cut-throat world of fashion modelling.
Controversy was sparked following the announcement that 13-year-old Brisbane schoolgirl Kirsty Thatcher won the 2012 Dolly magazine search contest.
The competition was famously axed by former editor Mia Freedman just years after the discovery of Miranda Kerr in 1997, because she thought 13-year-olds were too young to enter.
Now a decade on and it seems Miss Thatcher will follow in Kerr's footsteps as the youngest of six finalists selected from thousands of teenage girls around the country, starting up the child beauty war once again.
Successful Coast model Caity Sanderson (pictured), who walked in her first bikini catwalk at just 14, said 13 was the right age to begin a modelling career.
"I did my first photo shoot at 13, it was very beautiful in a field of flowers, the photographer was great and talked me through the shoot and I felt very comfortable," Miss Sanderson said.
"From there I continued with the photo shoots and when I was asked to model in a bikini they were very considerate and never pressured me into anything.
"I was ready to model at 13, I was tall and I had very adult bone structure, which is the same for Kirsty and the reason why she looks so much older in photographs."
Coast model agent Serena Keenan agreed, saying many models knew they wanted to model as a career by the age 13.
"They know if they want to model and I can't see anything wrong with launching their careers then," Mrs Keenan said.
"What better way for them to have this sort of direction in life and the self-confidence that comes hand in hand with modelling."
However USC child phycologist Rachael Sharman said 13 was far too young to launch a career.
"This is an adult industry - we don't ask young men to start apprenticeships as a mechanic or plumber at 13 and that is because they are not ready," Dr Sharman said.
"I cannot think of any other profession where 13 is considered an appropriate age to start working in an adult industry and why some people think this is, is ridiculous."
Current Dolly editor Tiffany Dunk defended the decision to revive the competition this year.
She told media the competition had changed considerably, the magazine now working with the Butterfly Foundation which focused on body image issues and the media, to ensure it presented a "positive role model for young girls."
Model teen not stuck for options
THE 13-year-old winner of the Dolly magazine Model Search has a range of back-up options if a career on the catwalk does not work out.
Brisbane Girls Grammar student Kirsty Thatcher, who was named the winner on Monday, has broad interests in the arts and sport.
Kirsty shares her time between ballet and the piano, rowing, basketball and acting out Shakespeare with the Queensland Theatre Company.
"I can definitely see modelling as a career for me, but if it doesn't work out there are other things I could try as well," Kirsty said after being named from five finalists at Sydney's Museum Of Contemporary Art.
A range of interests was a key criterion in the nationwide contest, revived under the current Dolly editor Tiffany Dunk 10 years after it was axed by her predecessor Mia Freedman.
It followed controversy caused by the rise of another 13-year-old winner in 1997, Miranda Kerr, with critics claiming the young model was exploited in a series of provocative magazine shoots.
The competition now focuses on amateur beauties who can shine "on the inside and out" that readers of Dolly can relate to, says Dunk.
"We were looking for someone who's confident and has a healthy body image with interests outside modelling," she said.
Kirsty will feature heavily in the magazine as a model and columnist after she beat more than 500 hopefuls to win the contest.
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