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Video: Is 13-year-old too young to model?

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TODAY contributor
updated 9/18/2007 9:30:11 AM ET 2007-09-18T13:30:11

Janice Dickinson was the world’s first supermodel, and she doesn’t care how adult and graceful Australian model Maddison Gabriel looks on a fashion runway. At barely 13 years of age, she’s just too young, Dickinson said.

“There’s lots of drugs, there’s lots of alcohol, there’s lots of photographers preying on these girls,” Dickinson said Tuesday on TODAY. “Thirteen is way too young.”

Maddison turned 13 on Sunday; she was still 12 when she was chosen as the “face” and official ambassador of the Gold Coast Fashion Week in Australia. At 5 feet 7 inches, the blue-eyed girl has the looks and the moves to model clothing — some of it provocative — designed for women two and three times her age.

“It doesn’t matter about the age,” she says with adolescent insouciance. “It matters that you can do the job. I can fit into women’s clothes. I can model women’s clothes, so I should be able to do it.”

“Well, there’s babies on TV, isn’t there, doing commercials,” says her mother, Michelle Gabriel, who has been wildly criticized in Australia for allowing her daughter to start modeling at such a young age. “You tell me. What is too young?”

TODAY
Maddison Gabriel

The Gabriels were in London when they made those statements recently. Maddison can not work as a fashion model in Europe, though; the age limit for runway work there is 16.

And Dickinson said that she will not allow any girls under 18 to model for her agency.

“I have about 32 girls who are dying to break that 18-year-old mark,” she told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer. “Get your high school diploma and then come and see me.”

Dickinson knows what she’s talking about. Born in 1955 in Brooklyn to parents she’s described as dysfunctional at best, she went to Europe to become a model in the 1970s and catapulted to stardom.

She also leaped into the world of Studio 54, alcohol, drugs and indiscriminate sex, once telling Howard Stern that she had slept with at least 1,000 men.

Dickinson, who still looks spectacular at 52, is sober now, the owner of her own modeling agency and a judge on “America’s Next Top Model.” She also appears on “The Surreal Life.”

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Dickinson has a 13-year-old daughter, who, she told Lauer, is not going to be on a catwalk.

“I started way too young,” she said, and so do too many other young women who end up with personal problems as big as their fame.

“Look at Kate Moss — problems with the law and drug abuse. Look at Naomi Campbell,” Dickinson said, ticking off a list of lives gone wrong in the glamorous and often sordid world of modeling. “These girls have unresolved problems because their parents abandoned them.”

Lauer noted that modeling is a young woman’s job, and many models are already washed up by the age of 25, so why not start young and get a leg up on the competition?

“Cindy Crawford is still modeling well into her 40s,” Dickinson said, admitting that Crawford is a rare exception who has defied the rules of the game. But, she said, “There can be other exceptions.”

‘Way too young’
The bottom line, she repeated, is that her own experience has taught her that the business is too brutal for kids. “I’m the world’s first supermodel, and it’s too young. It’s way too young.”

She blamed Michelle Gabriel for pushing her daughter into the business.

“Maddison’s mom is a stage mom, just like Britney’s mom,” she said, alluding to the troubled pop star, Britney Spears. “Look at Britney now, she can’t keep her clothes on.”

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