The 8-year-old supermodel with 2 million Facebook fans

Sitting in bed in short-shorts, legs stretching for miles as she plays on her phone, Russian model Kristina Pimenova looks like a typical off-duty teenage model. Posted on Instagram by her mother, the picture has 17762 'likes' and 135 gushing comments, praising her perfect figure and long limbs.

She's been dubbed 'the most beautiful girl in the world' and modelled for Armani, but Kristina is only eight years old.

Yep. While models have traditionally been scouted at around age 14 (Kate Moss, Gemma Ward), the arrival of French model Thylane Blondeau changed all that.

Russian model Kristina Pimenova, 8.
Russian model Kristina Pimenova, 8. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The astonishingly mature-looking Blondeau, 13, posed in a provocative and controversial shoot for Paris Vogue at just 10-years-old and at 12, was on the front of French fashion magazine Jalouse, where she is dubbed 'The next Kate Moss'.

She may be five years younger, but Kristina boasts the most social media followers with 2 million on Facebook alone, and countless tribute accounts on Tumblr and Instagram.

Like her fellow model Thylane, Kristina's image is artfully constructed: long, loose, honey-coloured hair, moody expressions, leather jackets, designer sunglasses.

Disturbingly, Kristina and Thylane seem not to be competing with other child models for children's clothing catalogues, but for editorial work in adult fashion magazines. Grown women leave messages on Kristina's Instagram like "You're so perfect!" and "I wish I was 7!"

There is something very wrong  - and creepy - going on when fashion has become so divorced from reality that a flat-chested, prepubescent, hip-less young child is a style icon.

Most of their pictures are not what you'd call risqué, but there is something disturbing about seeing little Kristina photographed in knee high boots, or staring up from a bed with messy hair and pouty lips

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Not surprisingly, the parents of both girls have come under fire for sexualising their children, but the mothers of the girls – former models themselves  - have not responded to the controversy (although Blondeau's mother did say she shields Thylane from the criticism).

The appetite for mini models seems to be coming from Europe, where agencies are reportedly on the lookout for 13-year-olds and by 16 a girl is considered 'past it'.

In Australia, fashion magazines and women's runway shows won't feature girls under 16, while in America, any model under 18 is now covered by child labour laws. Young Australian girls are allowed to model for Kids Fashion Week however, and some pint-sized  beauties are earning up to $50,000 a year in modelling jobs

Kristina Pimenova has 300 thousand Instagram followers.
Kristina Pimenova has 300 thousand Instagram followers. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

While regulators might be trying to stop the exploitation of child models, there is nothing to stop parents from building massive social media profiles for their children, and earning money while doing so. (Roxy Jacenko's  three-year-old daughter Pixie earns $200 per post on Instagram for featuring sponsors.)

In some ways, you can't blame them – why not secure their children's future by setting aside money in their youth from a few photoshoots?

Although I do wonder what messages it sends to young girls, that to be an icon all you have to do is be pretty.

My icon at age 8 was the sassy Punky Brewster. With mismatched socks and messy pigtails, she wasn't glamorous, but her resilience and warm, funny humour made her a character to admire.

When do these little child models get a chance to dress down, hang out with kids their own age and have fun?

Kristina's Instagram bio says to remember "beauty is inside", yet her life seems to be dominated by photoshoots. Apparently she competes in gymnastics and loves animals but we see little of this side of Kristina in the pictures her mother shares with the world.

The use of young European girls in photoshoots seems to be generally tolerated so long as the shoots are classic and 'high fashion', but is it really so different from the much-derided pageant culture featured in Toddlers in Tiaras?

In both circumstances girls are making money for adults on the basis of their appearance, and made to look older then they really are, for the purposes of entertainment and an idealised vision of beauty which is completely unrealistic.

It's time to shut down designers who think it's okay to advertise women's clothes and accessories via an 8-year-old, and time to let girls discover who they really are, far away from the fashion industry, which, rife with eating disorders, is hardly a healthy place for young women to grow in to adults.

I just hope little Kristina makes the transition OK.

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