08/07/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
After a six-month vacation from the public eye (sort of), Britney Spears is trumpeting her return with a barely clad cover photo for British Elle's September issue and a soul-baring interview in which she admits that settling down with former love Justin Timberlake would have been a huge mistake.
"I think I got way too serious, way too young. It's very healthy to not be in that relationship right now," she says in the interview, according to the Associated Press.
Spears, 21, who hails from tiny Kentwood, La., also says she's glad she hasn't followed in the footsteps of many of her former high school classmates who are already wives and mothers.
"That's where I come from and that's the mindset I had all my life," she says. "Now I think, 'Whoah, that would have been the biggest mistake of my life.'"
Spears, who broke off a three-year relationship with Timberlake in early 2002, said his casting of a Britney lookalike in his video for "Cry Me A River" wounded her. "It was hard for me that he was so exploitative," she said, reports AP. "Every interview that he did, he was just talking about us in such an open way and I just felt, 'Is nothing sacred anymore?' It was weird. It was ... disappointing."