The Daily Mail has told critics of its front page which pictured Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon and asked “who won Legs-it” to “get a life”.
The tabloid was scorned for focusing on the prime minister’s and first minister’s legs during talks on Brexit and a second Scottish referendum.
It said the piece by Sarah Vine was flagged as a “light-hearted” sidebar.
Mrs May played down the row, saying: “If people want to have a bit of fun about how we dress then so be it.”
She told the Wolverhampton Express and Star that as a woman in politics she had often found that what she wore had been an issue “looked at rather closely by people”.
The prime minister added: “Obviously what we do as politicians is what makes a difference to people’s lives. I think that most people concentrate on what we do as politicians.”
A spokesman for the first minister said the focus on Mrs May’s and Ms Sturgeon’s legs was “slightly surprising” when they had met to discuss Brexit and a second Scottish referendum.
He added: “Brexit may risk taking Britain back to the early 1970s but there is no need for coverage of events to lead the way.”
The Daily Mail piece was part of more than a page of coverage on the two leaders’ appearance.
Under the headline, “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!” and alongside a photo of the two leaders sitting down for talks at a Glasgow hotel, the paper wrote: “It wasn’t quite stilettos at dawn…”
The article was met with scorn from other politicians, including former equalities minister Nicky Morgan who said it was “deliberately demeaning”.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which regulates the newspaper industry, says it has received at least 300 complaints about the front page.
The Daily Mail responded to the criticism, saying it often commented on the appearance of male politicians “including Cameron’s waistline, Osborne’s hair, Corbyn’s clothes – and even Boris’s legs”.
It went on: “Is there a rule that says political coverage must be dull or has a po-faced BBC and left-wing commentariat, so obsessed by the Daily Mail, lost all sense of humour… and proportion?”
‘Foetus in a jar’
Ms Vine also defended the piece saying the Mail was a tabloid newspaper and “that’s what we do”.
She told BBC’s World at One: “I think people have had a slight sense of humour failure.”
Ms Vine added: “There was quite a lot of serious stuff about this meeting and then we saw the picture and thought, ‘Gosh, look at those kitten heels and look at those fabulous legs, let’s write some words about it.'”
She said the intellectual coverage of the meeting was likely to be “quite dry” and her piece was creating a more “approachable version”.
Ms Vine also pointed out that male MPs’ appearances were commented on, saying her husband former Education Secretary Michael Gove was once described as having “a face that looked like a foetus in a jar”.
In her sketch, Ms Vine wrote: “What stands out here are the legs – and the vast expanse on show.
“There is no doubt that both these women consider their pins to be the finest weapon in their physical arsenal.”
Mrs May’s are “demurely arranged in her customary finishing-school stance”, she observes.
Ms Sturgeon’s “shorter, but undeniably more shapely shanks are altogether more flirty, tantalisingly crossed, with the dominant leg pointing towards her audience”.
She says the Scottish leader’s pose – at a meeting to discuss topics of state including the triggering of Article 50 on Wednesday – is “a direct attempt at seduction”.
Ms Morgan, a former secretary of state for education and minister for women and equalities, tweeted in reaction: “Seriously? Our two most senior female politicians are judged for their legs not what they said #appallingsexism”.
She told BBC Radio 5 live the Mail’s coverage was: “Deliberately provocative, and deliberately demeaning.”
“How the prime minister deals with it is entirely a matter for her,” she said, but added: “You’ve got two very senior female politicians who are discussing weighty issues and this is what a national newspaper thinks is appropriate.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was among the politicians and public figures to condemn the coverage.
Former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said: “Moronic! And we are in 2017!”
Ed Miliband quipped: “The 1950s called and asked for their headline back. #everydaysexism”.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson contributed a shot of her “bit short” pins in the froth of a hot tub to the debate.
Historian and classicist Mary Beard took the long view, writing: “Women and power? Worth seeing what we might be up against. Legs-it, ffs”
And former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger drew a line to history – feeling Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt were also in command of some “nice pins”.
The front page was later changed to make it clear the sketch was written by Ms Vine.
And the Scottish edition ran under the alternative headline: “Oh so frosty! Secrets of Nicola and PM’s talk-in.”
Twitter, and the British public at large were quick to respond with wit.
One spoof front page by Ashley Gould featured former PM David Cameron, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Mr Corbyn and Mr Gove, not in workwear, but sporting shorts.
It posed the same question.
Others were inspired by their own legs.
Ren tweeted: I can’t get to my desk to work. Damned legs, they’re seducing all over the place I just can’t control them teehee!