Kirsty Thatcher is only 13, but standing at 178 centimetres in full professional hair and make-up, the aspiring model talks about issues like ''positive body image'' with the sort of conviction most 21-year-olds would find hard to muster.
Occasionally the Brisbane teen reverts to speaking in the language of her peers: ''It's soooo amazing. I loved the dresses and getting the hair and make-up done. It was just soooo cool.''
Yesterday on the rooftop of Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art, Kirsty was named the 2012 Dolly Model Search winner, unleashing a storm of controversy.
She was the youngest of six finalists selected from thousands of teenage girls around the country who hoped the competition would launch their careers as it did for supermodel Miranda Kerr, who was also just 13 when she won in 1997.
Kerr's win also caused a media furore. Years later she reflected on the controversy: ''In the media at the time they were trying to cling on to anything remotely to do with paedophilia. Dolly is a magazine for teenage girls, not for old men.''
Yet it was the former Dolly editor Mia Freedman who axed the model search a decade ago, not just because she thought 13-year-olds were too young to enter a ''very adult industry''.
''It was a bad commercial decision for me, but I was compelled to make it because ultimately, you are putting a child into an industry that's all about rejection,'' she said.
''Even Miranda Kerr gets rejected, and I don't think winning the competition at 14 was a great thing for Kate Fischer either.
''Let's not dress it up, modelling is all about being told you are too fat, too short, have the wrong teeth.''
Freedman was disappointed the competition had been resurrected this year.
''It sends the wrong message,'' she said.
Not so, according to current Dolly editor Tiffany Dunk, who said yesterday: ''We intentionally didn't ask the girls what their dress size was or how much they weighed. We asked them to tell us something about themselves. We are not just looking for a fashion model, but also a role model who can be a positive ambassador for Dolly.''
Dunk enlisted the advice of body-image specialists from The Butterfly Foundation, who conducted workshops with the finalists on issues such as eating disorders.
Yet among the finalists yesterday, the competition's clear attraction was its prize, the potentially lucrative modelling contract with the high-profile Sydney modelling agency Chadwicks.
Kirsty's mother, Debbie, beamed with pride. She was ''nervous'' about her daughter entering the modelling industry, but added ''it really has been her dream for a long time, so I'm happy to support her''.
Kirsty will soon fly to New York to meet agents.
Travelling with her will be the Chadwicks managing director, former model Martin Walsh, who likened the industry to the world of elite sport.
''If a kid shows a great talent as a sportsman, you don't ignore it, you recognise it and you guide it properly,'' he said.
''There isn't much she can really do until she reaches about 15 or 16. If nurtured properly, these girls can go on to not just be ordinary models, but good businesswomen too.''
- Sydney Morning Herald
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