The girl chosen as the face of an Australian fashion event says she fits into women's clothes, so she should be allowed to model them — even though she just turned 13.
Prime Minister John Howard has led a chorus of criticism of the choice of Maddison Gabriel, who was 12 when she was named the face of the inaugural Gold Coast Fashion Week.
The middle school student told Australia's Channel Seven that she was the right model for the job.
"I believe that I can fit into women's clothes, I can model women's clothes, so I should be able to do it," Maddison said.
"It doesn't matter about age, it matters that you can do the job."
Her mother, Michelle Gabriel, also defended the role, saying at the time of her daughter's selection that she could be both a 12-year-old girl and a young woman.
"For a 12-year-old I think she's handling it very well; I'm very proud of her," she said.
Howard earlier said Australia should follow the example of Europe and ban models younger than 16 appearing on catwalks.
"We do have to preserve some notion of innocence in our society," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting in Melbourne.
"Catapulting girls as young as 12 into something like that is quite outrageous and I'm totally opposed to it and think most Australians would feel the same way."
Federal Labor leader Kevin Rudd said he was concerned that Maddison and others would miss out on their childhood.
"I have real concerns about littlies that young going out there doing that sort of thing," he said.
Premier Anna Bligh agreed that 12 is too young for the catwalk but stopped short of recommending the state legislate against it.
"I think 12-year-olds are children," she told reporters in Brisbane.
Bligh said parents and event organizers should exercise discretion when choosing models.
"There wasn't anything illegal going on, and I don't think it's an area we'd like to step in and have the state regulate," she said.
"But I would just say to organizers of an event like this, just be a little careful about what you're involving yourself with."
Gabriel said she was disappointed by Howard's and Rudd's comments.
"They obviously don't know the whole story," she said.
Her mother said Maddison was not hurt by the controversy.
"She's laughing; she's having fun," she said. "She thinks you're all mad.
"She said: 'What's all the fuss?'
"I'm just waiting for someone to say we are bad parents."
Maddison's fashion week engagements include an appearance at a Surfers Paradise nightclub, which bans underage patrons.
Gold Coast Fashion Week organizers were unavailable for comment.
Gabriel stressed the family had yet to make any money from Maddison's modeling.