A nice aside in Rachel Bertsche’s smart, funny, and engaging new book, Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time is the origin story of those “Stars—They’re Just Like Us!” photos of celebrities filling up their cars with gas or dragging their toddlers through grocery stores. The editor of Us Weekly who launched the feature, Bonnie Fuller, apparently didn’t have enough in the coffer for the glossy, posed pictures that more lucrative outlets coveted, so she was stuck with the paparazzi scraps. By taking those lemons and turning them into Lemon-Ginger-Acai cold-pressed juice, Fuller capitalized on the paradox that keeps us fascinated with celebrities: In certain lights they are models of perfection, and yet in others they’re really no different from you or me. Does that mean, Bertsche wonders as she launches an extended self-help experiment in copying them directly, that we could learn to be just like them?
Bertsche,a journalist, starts by doing her homework on her favorite celebrities, and then latches on to one aspect of their lifestyles (or at least their perceived lifestyles) like an eager student with a disembodied guru. Speaking of bodies, she starts by trying to get Jennifer Aniston’s, before moving on to projects including dressing like Sarah Jessica Parker (a tutu is involved), working like Tina Fey, and being all-around-fabulous like Beyonce.
Lest you’re afraid she’s under the delusion that one must only follow a formula to become Queen Bey, let me assure you that Bertsche takes a pragmatic approach to her obsession with A-Listers: “One benefit of mooching the habits of a mentor—be it SJP’s clothing choices or Gwyneth’s cooking—is that it forces you to start somewhere,” she writes. “Most great artists begin by copying someone else’s work before developing their own technique, and while less high-brow, this is no different. I need a jumping off point. I don’t expect to spend the rest of my life cooking only from Gwyneth’s cookbook or exclusively following Jennifer’s workout plan, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Readers will find themselves invested in the project, rooting for Bertsche to master Gwyneth’s 10-Hour Chicken recipe as though she were the protagonist of one of her beloved reality show contests. Along with her progress reports, she takes time to reflect on celebrity worship and the perfectionistic tendencies that she and many women struggle to keep in check. Ultimately, the book grapples with a big question: How should you spend each day in order to feel productive and good about yourself at its end?
One interesting conclusion Bertsche comes to is that, a desire to be like them notwithstanding, her life is actually better than that of a celeb in some ways. For one, her body and behaviors are not under constant scrutiny. For another, she doesn’t have to work around the clock to keep a TV show or movie in production: “Could it be that sometimes, every now and then, like on the days I’m exhausted and would love nothing more than a whopping nine hours of sleep, that being me is actually better than being Tina? It’s hard to believe, but maybe so.”
A personal crisis puts the book’s lessons in perspective and adds some narrative drama: Bertsche and her husband are having a hard time conceiving a much-wanted child. It’s one of those problems even the famous are not inoculated against (though money certainly helps those pursuing fertility treatments), and Bertsche’s forthcoming depiction of her quest sets an example of what we’re willing to do when we really, really, want something, whether it’s a family or toned upper arms.
In a meta-twist, as the charming star of her own vehicle, Bertsche herself is as an aspirational yet relatable entity. When her husband gives her diamond stud earrings—a very sweet gift designed to cheer her as she embarks on an arduous round of IVF—they’re described as “small.” It could be a mere adjective, but I suspect it also reflects the bind that women, whether they are famous or merely successful (see: Lean In), are in as they must convince others that they are warm as well as competent; that they are enjoying the benefits of hard work while also feeling grateful and blessed.
Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me is full of practical tips on how to be more like your favorite entertainers but also offers a deeper exploration of how best to spend this precious raw material you have—your time—and how to devise a fair measuring stick by which to judge progress toward your ideals.
***I also really enjoyed Bertsche’s first book, MWF Seeking BFF, which detailed her pro-active methods for making new friends. Here’s a Q and A I conducted with her when it came out a few years ago.