NEW YORK — “When I was growing up, this is the only magazine I ever read,” said Britney Spears, the 20-year-old pop sensation, referring to Cosmopolitan.

“To be named the Fun, Fearless Female of the Year is amazing,” added the singer, who was honored Monday at a Cosmo luncheon at The Four Seasons Restaurant here.

Dressed in a gray pinstripe Dolce & Gabbana pantsuit and sky-blue turtleneck, Spears was accompanied by her mother, Lynn, and her entourage. Having appeared on such covers as Rolling Stone, Elle, Vogue, Jane, Entertainment Weekly and Teen People, Spears said she was excited to be a Cosmo covergirl for the first time. She was photographed by Patrick Demarchelier in true Cosmo style for the February cover, wearing a pleated red silk chiffon dress by RC Danenberg by Rebecca Danenberg, with the requisite plunging neckline.

Historically, Cosmo has awarded a full slate of honorees at its annual Fun, Fearless Female luncheon, but this year, it decided to honor Spears exclusively, although the February issue features nine other honorees, including Niki Taylor, Nelly Furtado, Alicia Silverstone, Beyonce Knowles and Jill Hennessy. According to a Cosmo spokeswoman, the magazine decided a less glitzy, more personal luncheon was more appropriate in light of Sept. 11, and the magazine was able to get Spears and felt it would be more impactful.

Although it was a more subdued event, there was the added attraction of raffle prizes for guests, such as a $3,000 shopping spree at Saks Fifth Avenue; an opportunity to pose for a mock Cosmo cover photographed by Demarchelier; a Cosmo day of beauty at Frederic Fekkai, and two Prada handbags.

Kate White, editor in chief of Cosmo, gave a list of reasons why Spears qualified as the Fun, Fearless Female of the Year. She pointed to Spears’s Pepsi commercial during Sunday night’s Super Bowl; the fact that “her stage shows put Cirque du Soleil to shame;” that she’s not afraid to take risks and cowrote five songs on her new CD; how within a month her album went quadruple platinum, and that next week, her movie, “Crossroads” premieres. Although Spears sings about no longer being a girl and not quite a woman, White pointed out: “You are all female to us. You make Heidi Klum look like Drew Carey.”

Cosmo showed a videotape of Spears’s contemporaries congratulating her, such as Jennifer Love Hewitt, a former Fun Fearless Female of the Year; boyfriend Justin Timberlake; Chris and J.C. of ‘NSync; Celine Dion; Mark McGrath; Lenny Kravitz, and Destiny’s Child.

Susan Plagemann, publisher of Cosmo, told the audience how under White, the circulation has grown by over 400,000 copies the past 3 1/2 years, to 2.8 million a month. “Everyone envies Kate’s newsstand circulation. Cosmo sells over two million copies on the newsstand and with Britney, you’re going to do even more.”

Plagemann had asked her seven-year-old son if he wanted to attend the luncheon but he turned her down because he was afraid to talk to a female rock star. He reminded his mother that he’s only seven years old.

But after the luncheon, Plagemann asked Spears, “Will you come with me to pick my son up at school?”

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