Considering the public scrutiny she's faced, it's understandable why Gomez would feel protective over Lovato and not one to discuss her one-time BFF's struggles with the press. And now that she's away from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood, Gomez feels like she can finally breathe. "Right now, I feel very sure of where I am. I don't feel erratic or emotionally unstable. Or like I can't handle my emotions, like I used to. It's kind of understanding myself a little more. By all means, I don't have myself figured out," the former child star explains. "But it feels good."
Calling it both "peaceful" and "weird," the singer says, "The moment I turned 26, I felt 26."
Getting away from the paparazzi has been a godsend for Gomez, who is hard at work on her long-delayed album. "I think everything in my life is being majorly downsized, in a very good way. I'm going back to simplicity. That's always who I've been. It's not me saying, 'I feel the best I've ever felt.' It's me saying, 'I'm exactly where I am. And I'm so happy I'm in this place,'" she says. "It's a lot of self-discovery. From 20 to 26? Oh my gosh. I feel like a totally different person." For a while, Gomez tells ELLE, "I think I did certain things because I thought I had to."
Gomez is designing a different life for herself in Orange County. She has quietly been interning at A21, a global anti–human-trafficking nonprofit, and she's committed to staying off social media. "I'm not on the internet. I haven't been on the internet in months. I don't have my password for Instagram. I have no apps on my phone, no photo editing apps. I have Peak, a brain game," she reveals. "The reason why is, it's not real to me. I know my voice is very prominent, but I'm not careless with it. I'm selective. As far as my personal life, someone sees me having a glass of wine? I could give two s--ts. I'm not trying to hide. That's my life. I'm living it the way I want to live it. But it's about making a conscious effort—if I can have a moment to be with my friends, I'll take that time. So, I don't have any of it. I had to make that decision."
ELLE's October issue is on newsstands Sept. 25.