From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
It's not easy being 17 and juggling home schooling with worldwide pop stardom. At a video rehearsal in February, "I was kicking my right leg up, and the left leg just collapsed," says Britney Spears, whose infectious debut CD,...Baby One More Time, has sold more than 3 million copies. She spent three weeks on crutches, then underwent surgery to repair torn cartilage in her knee.

But hobbling – oops, that's hobnobbing – with professional hairdressers has its advantages. "One stylist told me to get my hair lightened even more," says the naturally brunette Spears. "It looks so much better."

Not that the 5'5" singer needs much help. "Even as a little baby she was really darling," says her mother, Lynne, a second–grade teacher in Kentwood, La. (Dad Jamie is a building contractor.) "She has always been noticed."

Never more so than in the uproar over the recent Lolita–like photos of her that appeared in Rolling Stone. "I thought they turned out really well," counters Spears, who was also wounded by a report that she has breast implants. "It hurts me to hear this kind of stuff," says her mom.

But famous friends like 'N Sync's JC Chasez say it's Spears's fresh–scrubbed look that really appeals. "Guys are into her because she's cute, and girls like her because she's not trying too hard," says Chasez, who first met Spears in 1992, when both were Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers, along with 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake.

Spears's schedule – in addition to a 40–city tour starting in June, she's in talks for her own TV pilot and appearances on Dawson's Creek – doesn't leave much time for dating. So if she has an embarrassing makeup moment, it's in front of a whole stadium. She was all set to walk onstage to open for 'N Sync at Dallas's Bronco Bowl last December when she noticed a large blemish on her cheek. With the ingenuity of youth, "I covered it with eyeliner and made a mole," she says. But midway through the show, the beauty mark turned ugly. "It smeared because I had been sweating!"