Lolita-Lipped Model Creates Uproar on Australian Runway

The Lolita-inspired model Maddison Gabriel caused an uproar last week after the then 12-year-old was named the official face of Australia's annual Gold Coast Fashion Week.

Gabriel, with her classic full-lipped pout, celebrated her 13th birthday Sunday.

As parents called for an age limit on modeling, Gabriel's mother defended her daughter's choice, stirring a tempest in British teapots.

In the U.K., where models at fashion week must bring a health certificate to walk the runway, preteen bloggers gave Gabriel mixed reviews.

"It is way too young!" 10-year-old Alice of Harlow wrote on the BBC's blog. "What kind of message is it sending out to other 12-year-old girls? Be really skinny and let fashion get in the way of childhood?"

"I think that Maddison should jump for the chance as it will bring her a brilliant career in the future," countered Francesca, 12, of Manchester. "If this is what would make her happy and her parents think it is OK then why should anyone stop her?"

The blond, long-legged model will not appear on London's runway anytime soon because of a new ban on models under the age of 16. Organizers for several fashion shows have adopted similar bans.

Back in Australia, fashion week officials said Gabriel, who will not assume her title until next year's event, will only do photo shoots and will not be doing runway work. They also point out that she will be enrolled in modeling classes as part of her prize.

So why are some parents so shocked?

Model Brooke Shields survived two sex-charged roles as a child actress. At 13, she played a young girl living in a brothel in the 1978 film "Pretty Baby."

Two years later she and Christopher Atkins steamed up the screen as nude lovers marooned on an island in "Blue Lagoon."

As a teenager, Shields exposed her midriff in the classic Calvin Klein jeans ad, declaring seductively, "Want to know what gets between me and my Calvins? Nothing."

Despite the early exposure to sexuality, Shields went on to earn a degree from Princeton University and raise two children.

Though 10-year-old Shirley Temple's giddy "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" in 1938 was no match for 13-year-old Jodie Foster's precocious role in the 1976 film "Taxi Driver," children have graced stage and screen for decades.

Some ask why should it be any different on the runway.

The Ford Agency, one of the highest profile modeling agencies in the United States, said they take models as young as 3 months for advertising. But they would not comment on the runway variety.

Cathy Soon worked as a model as an 18-year-old, starting in Memphis, Tenn., and moving on to opportunities in Southeast Asia and Africa.

"The majority are just working girls," she said. "It's a vagabond lifestyle and great if you're level-headed."

Now 29 and happily married, she is studying political science at Hunter College in New York City. She coped with what she calls the "plasticity and phoniness" of the fashion world but has seen younger models who couldn't handle the ever-present temptations to go wild.

"You are basically [hired] for your looks," said Soon. "It's a weird dynamic. People are constantly judging your looks and what you weigh. There's a lot of pressure to be thin, and there are a lot of girls with eating disorders who smoke and party a lot. A lot of girls get caught up in that."

Still, Soon recognized that a talent like Maddison — even at 13 — is unstoppable.

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