ELIZABETH PRESTON, who turns 13 today, is a young model with her eye on the big time. She wants to be a Kate Moss or a Naomi Campbell and sees nothing wrong with having posed in scanty clothing as part of that aim. Nor, it seems, does her mother.

"When I saw the first modelling picture I just thought she looked beautiful. I honestly believe if you have it, use it," she said yesterday. She refused to comment on criticism from family groups that she was not protecting her daughter.

Yesterday the London agency that has signed Elizabeth defended the photographs, dismissing claims they made her look like a sex object. "This has all been taken out of context. We took 200 shots and this is the only one that looks like that. We are not projecting her as a vampish woman. She is a lovely, very mature 13-year-old," said Phil Jeremy of Model Plan. He pointed out that the feature in the Daily Mail was supposed to be a "lifestyle" feature. Instead, the paper chose to make a moral issue of it.

He says that so far Elizabeth has gone on some "go sees" during half- term last week. The agency would be looking for her to work for teenage magazines and clothing catalogues. Her mother plans to send her to college in Winchester to take A-levels, leading to a degree in music and drama. "Of course, that may change if my modelling takes off," adds Elizabeth.

You can count on it, and she wouldn't be the first, though she would be among the youngest. Vivienne Westwood caused a storm at last year's London Fashion Week for using 13-year-olds on the catwalk. Model Rachel Kirby was "discovered" at the age of 12. Even the industry sees such young girls as vulnerable - especially in this age of heroin chic. Older models, such as Paula Hamilton, have called for laws to safeguard young girls. She started modelling at 15 and developed a cocaine habit that took years to beat.

Last year, Sarah Thomas, from the Norfolk village of Swardeston decided to leave school, five months into A-level studies in maths, physics and design technology. She has since landed a lucrative contract to promote shampoo on American television. The deal puts her in the same bracket as supermodel Yasmin Le Bon.

That would be Elizabeth's dream too, and although she says it wouldn't change her a bit, she adds: "Just think, one day I could be on the front cover of Vogue."