Marcia's a single parent and her 12 and a half-year-old daughter was recently spotted at school by a reputable model agency, which has asked her to join. Her daughter's mad keen, but Marcia feels uneasy. What should she do?

RIGHT-WING family groups have suggested that girls in the same situation as Marcia's daughter ought to be taken into care, rather than be allowed to pursue modelling careers. But that's because they know nothing about modelling. It's not about sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. It's about sheer hard work, and you're kept slim by early-morning shoots and rushing around rather than by developing eating disorders. A model's figure is not seen as a sexual one; it is more like a beautiful racehorse, a work of art. Paedophiles may get a buzz out of looking at the photographs of very young models but, without knowing the first thing about how paedophiles minds work, I'd imagine they'd be more turned on by pictures of childish innocence than childish sophistication.

When I was young I was in a different position to Marcia's daughter. I was pushed into modelling by my fashion professor mother who would get me walking down catwalks in horribly fashionable tea dresses and French schoolgirl coats, complete with long white socks and patent leather shoes. I hated every single stressful, embarrassing, boring, unpaid minute of it. Every single "Ooh" and "Aaah" made me squirm. And after standing in the Brighton Pavilion in a tight silk party dress all day under burning lights with Norman Parkinson snapping away, I remember fainting, to the shrieks and curses of the fashion editor who was doing the shoot. She refused to speak to me all the way back in the train.

However, had I been paid and seen it as a lucrative job of work rather than a favour I'd been manipulated into by my mother, I think I would have enjoyed it enormously. My mini-career would have boosted my self- esteem no end. And the money can be considerable. Marcia's daughter could be encouraged to spend a bit, but to save vast chunks to put down on a flat when she gets older. If it's the choice between modelling and a paper round - nearly as boring and stressful and exhausting as modelling - there's no question of what the answer is. As a hairdresser friend of mine said, "They may screw her up, darling, but at least she'll make loads of dosh."

But I don't think they will screw her up. Marcia could go with her on some shoots, and it's certainly not in the model agency's interests to create a monster, a sulky narcissistic prima donna. They'll want to keep her as sweet and young as possible; she'll be easier to manage.

There is an idea that children these days become adults too quickly. There is actually another argument, that you never hear, which is that children don't grow up quickly enough. The whole idea of such a long "childhood" and the innocence surrounding it only came into being in the Victorian era. Not all, but some children, are naturally ready for work, at least part-time, at a younger age than 16.

As long as Marcia's daughter is capable of taking the odd job while keeping up with her school work and her friends, what harm can there be in her earning a bomb now and again, and being made to feel wonderful and confident at the same time? She should make the most of the opportunities that are offered in life; they rarely come twice. And if she's got it, she should not only flaunt it but grab the money while she can. When her bust and hips develop, after all, she may find the only job on offer is on a supermarket checkout.

What Readers Say

Go for it, if she's mature

I STARTED modelling at 14 (against everyone's advice). It boosted my confidence and has enriched my life. You learn social skills and independence, and have loads of fun. I worked on weekends and holidays but finished my A-levels with good grades. If you think your daughter is stable enough to say "no thanks" to men, drugs, and over-zealous dietary programmes, and still do her homework, it would be a shame to deprive her of the advantages of modelling. To a girl who's got both feet on the ground, the modelling world is no more dangerous than your local high street. Perhaps you could accompany her to shoots until both of you feel more comfortable.

On the other hand, if you think she's not strong enough to face semi- grown-up life yet, she has nothing to lose by waiting a few years. Her physical prime is most likely years ahead, and it may be that she'll be better equipped to make the best of it then. Who knows, it may turn out that she doesn't like modelling anyway - trudging around offices and having to look great all the time can be discouraging too. But that's something that she'll have to find out for herself. If you were Kate Moss's mother, would you really have said "no"?

M Hansen, London N5

Her outlook is paramount

MODELLING is an uncertain business and only for the confident and mature. At the age of 12, your daughter may well be too young - especially if her childishness is compromised by her appearing in pictures which are overtly sexual. Added to that, the amount of money models can earn would set her apart from her contemporaries.

Only let her do it if you think she is mature enough to cope with the attention and the inevitable rejection. Make sure you monitor her pictures and the agency's role constantly. Above all, make sure you protect her against the drugs, eating disorders and exploitation that the industry is rife with. But if you can do all this - go ahead. The financial rewards are huge.

Georgina Pattinson

London SW15

Share your good fortune

I IMAGINE the source of Marcia's unease is the narcissism and exploitation tied up with the fashion industry. But instead of an attempt to embark on an ethical discussion or a heavy-handed refusal to let her daughter work for the agency, Marcia should praise her daughter's beauty, congratulate her on her good sense and harness that other powerful instinct in young people towards altruism. Then they could decide together to which of their favourite charities or pressure groups her daughter would like to give part of her fee.

Emily Bayliss, Newport

Be ready for disappointment

ABOUT a year ago, my daughter, Susan, who is now 14, was approached by a model agency at a dance studio. They made all kinds of glamorous promises and we agreed to have a first photo session. I was proud to see Susan coping with this experience - she had enormous fun. Of course, she expected to get modelling offers in the following months. You can imagine what it was like at home during that time. I was anxious that her performance at school would suffer but quite the contrary - she seemed to grow in self-confidence after the session.

However, we didn't hear anything more from the agency. It has been disappointing, but Susan has gained a lot from the experience. If I were you, I'd let her try it out and see what comes of it.

Henri Doerr, London W1

Next Week's Dilemma

WE MOVED into a flat three years ago, with a freeholder from hell. She is drunk, abusive and, frankly, mad. We cannot go into the garden, even though it is ours, because she throws water over us and screams abuse from the windows; we have tried to get planning permission for an extension but though the council is keen, she has always blocked it because of an extremely badly written lease. We have been trying to sell it, unsuccessfully, from a month after we moved in. Now a lovely couple want to buy it. She is pregnant; they too have fantasies about an extension, and using the garden, but haven't noticed the drawbacks in the lease because they are doing the conveyancing themselves. Do we sell the flat to them, or warn them? My husband says we will never sell it if we warn every potential buyer of the pitfalls, but this is such a lovely couple. Yours sincerely, Clara

Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora.

Send comments and suggestions to Virginia Ironside at the Features Department, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax: 0171-293 2182), by Tuesday morning. If you have a dilemma of your own that you would like to share, please let me know.