What it's Really Like to Live Like a Celeb
If you've ever gazed at a photo of your favorite star and thought, "wow, she has it all," you'll relate to the inspiration behind Rachel Bertsche's new book.
If you've ever gazed at a photo of your favorite celeb and thought, "wow, she has it all," you'll relate to the inspiration behind Rachel Bertsche's new book. In Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me ($9, out today from Ballantine), the author and journalist searches to become her best self by emulating the habits of celebrities she admires. We chatted with the 32-year-old Chicago writer, who is also a new mom, about happiness, perception and confidence.
How did you get the idea for this project? "I had been laid off recently and I was feeling in a rut. I was working from home and freelance writing, and it was so easy to stay in my pajamas all day or work in yoga pants and a T-shirt, and I would forget to turn the lights on. And I would look at these images of celebrities that we all adore and love to look at, and they just had it all together—they looked so glamorous, even when they were grocery shopping or pumping gas. So I thought, 'If I could be more like them, and look more like them, would I feel as fabulous as they seem to?'"
Interesting! There's also something about the concept of perception versus reality. Was that something you wanted to explore? "Absolutely. The more I saw these pictures of people looking so together, [like they] had it all, I was feeling worse about myself. What I wanted to do was flip that and use these images to inspire me and try to become the best version of myself. And I did approach it from the point of view of a fan, I didn't speak to any of them; this is how they appear. We don't know what's going on behind closed doors; I don't know Jennifer Aniston, so I don't know if she would say she has it all together or if she would say if she's happy. It was more the idea of, this is the perception we have, and the glow about them feels like they have it all and they're happy. Whether or not that is [their] reality, our perception is our reality because that's all we know."
So it was more about you finding happiness, and using celebrity culture as inspiration. "Exactly. 'The pursuit of happiness one celebrity at a time,' and using each celebrity to get me to my best self. I know on paper, I have a great life. I was lucky enough to do the job that I loved, I have a husband who's wonderful, family—I know how lucky I am. Yet I still felt in a rut, lethargic, there was no spring in my step. I was just looking to have some motivation to feel fabulous. By any measure, I am a really lucky person, so why do I still kind of feel, like, blah? [But I would] see a picture of Halle Berry, and think, like, 'If only I looked like that, I would feel much better.' But then, there's a question mark: one, is that possible? And two, is that true? If I look like I have it all together, and I do everything that they do, would I feel like I have it all together, would I be happier for it?"
And what did you discover? "Nobody is going to confuse me with Beyoncè, but one of the big discoveries was, whoever is your role model, whoever inspires you to be your best person, that's great. As you say, we all have a love/hate relationship with our fascination with celebrities because it can make us feel worse about ourselves. But if you can maintain a healthy sense of distance and acknowledge that we don't know what's going on in their everyday lives, and they do have money and assets that we don't, necessarily, by the end of this, I said to myself, 'I'm a happier and better version of myself than I was at the beginning.' And it wasn't because Jennifer Aniston has all the secrets to happiness but because I was able to incorporate into my life little bits and pieces I could pick up from other women who I do admire."
So how did you choose the women you decided to emulate? Was it one category per celebrity? "Yes it was. The first chapter is Jennifer Aniston's body, the second chapter is Gwyneth Paltrow's kitchen, then Sarah Jessica Parker's wardrobe, Tina Fey's work ethic, Jennifer Garner's marriage, Julia Roberts's serenity, Jessica Alba's pregnancy, then Beyoncè, she's like, superhuman, she's the whole package.
I think I picked the women who encapsulate that aspect we associate them with. We think of Sarah Jessica Parker, we think of fashion. And so many women want to have Jennifer Aniston's body, there have been polls where she's been the most coveted body in America by women. And Tina Fey, no one can argue that she's such a hard worker, and a career woman. I also admire the work ethic of Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham, absolutely. If you were to do the exact same experiment, it might be different women. Everyone has their own constellation of stars they have as their ideal, and I'm sure if I did the same thing in five years it would be a different group."
What was the very first day like? "The first day was hard! I had read all these articles about Jennifer Aniston and how she wakes up with the sun so she can ease into the day and read the paper as the sun comes up and have a coffee. And I am not a morning person! One of my biggest issues going into this was not having to go into an office, and I procrastinated forever and woke up late, and I'm sure a lot of people have battled that. So the first day––when I was suddenly supposed to get up at six––was not as successful as I'd hoped. And my husband, who is a morning person, came bounding in, like, 'What would Jennifer do? You have to get up! Let's be fabulous!' And I'm like, 'I'm tired, leave me alone, I don't want to work out.' But then, I did some work and took a half-hour yoga break to do a DVD by Jennifer Aniston's instructor. And that evening, I cooked restaurant-style salmon by The Family Chef, a cookbook by two women who are her personal chefs. And when the day ended, I was like, 'Okay, this feels good. Having a couple of things in my day that made me feel a little bit more accomplished, and I want to stick with it.'"
Your first goal was pretty specific: have an amazing body. Whether we do it or not, we all know how to achieve that. But the qualities of some of the other women are a bit harder to quantify, like serenity, or work ethic. How did you approach those? "Certainly, I read every interview with them I could…but for some of them, it's open to interpretation. Like, with Julia Roberts, she didn't say, 'This is what I do to be so Zen.' But she has talked about how she meditates sometimes, and the need to have gratitude in her life. So I tried to get myself to meditate every day. I started with five minutes and tried to work up to 20. And I sat down and made a gratitude list. She had mentioned that she's never seen a Facebook page and didn't know what a Tweet was, so I went on a little bit of a social media fast. And similarly with Tina Fey, a lot of that chapter was just, 'Oh, I guess I just really need to work all the time.' She has a million jobs and is sleeping less and working all the time.'"
While waking up at six in the morning to work out and preserve your Jennifer Aniston butt, of course!
"Yeah, exactly! And to that point, one of the most interesting things about that part, while reading about Tina Fey, she has said that she doesn't really work out. She's like, 'I'll do yoga in my grave.' And it suddenly occurred to me that I am trying to do all the things these women do, but even these women don't do all the things these women do. Tina Fey is such an amazing writer and worker and mom that she doesn't have time to work out. And you realize, they're all different people, and maybe they're not all doing each part. You can be great in one area, and maybe not interested in another. When I tried to do Gwyneth Paltrow's cleanse but also work out like Jennifer Aniston, they couldn't really coexist; you need to eat to work out."
Looking back, what else did you learn about yourself? "It doesn't take huge changes to get yourself out of a funk. I'm at my happiest when I exercise that day, when I put on an outfit that makes me feel good. I learned that confidence really is the best accessory. These women have this aura of self-confidence and they hold their head up high, and they are proud women, and that is really inspiring. And I learned that I can be kind of hard on myself, and we have to forgive ourselves. I would say to myself, 'I have to remember they are the exception, not the rule.' I can't beat myself up if one day, I need a break and I want to sit on the couch, watch TV and eat pad Thai. So I learned how to treat myself better by not beating myself up when I'm not the perfect version of myself."
Certainly, its about perception, but maybe it's also projection. Perhaps we project idealized versions of ourselves onto celebrities. "That's the interesting thing. You also start to realize that no one is paying as much attention as you are. Your perception of all the things you don't like about yourself, most likely, other people are not thinking anything about that, they're busy thinking about all the things they don't like about themselves––or focusing on all the great things about you."