Author and celebrity-watcher Rachel Bertsche spent nearly a year emulating the lifestyles of several famous female stars, seeking contentment, productivity and better arms.
Her new book, Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time, is The Happiness Project meets People magazine.
Most celebrities are graced with devotees and burdened with haters, and this book — like the A-listers it covers — will likely face both. Some will hail it as a fun, thought-provoking, self-improvement memoir, and critics might call it self-indulgent and shallow.
There may be some readers who find the idea of taking life advice from celebrities questionable, but Berstche — a journalist and former editor at Oprah Winfrey's magazine — creates a voice that is self-deprecating and relatable. She knows her target female audience, and her research and writing skills make it an easy read.
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Throughout the book, Bertsche asks why women (including herself) are fascinated by celebrities and often see them as role models. Each of the eight chapters focuses on one celebrity's particular assets and expertise, in an area the author would like to tackle to lift her self-esteem.
"A complete overhaul is too overwhelming. You don't always know where to start. Comparing yourself to others isn't necessarily the healthiest method of self-improvement but if it's impetus to get started, is that so wrong?" Bertsche asks.
Bertsche is thoughtful about her goals in the project, honest about her successes and failures, and reflective about the results. She studies Jennifer Aniston's eating habits and exercise regimens to feel better about her body, looks to Sarah Jessica Parker for fashion tips and envies Beyoncé's ability to work, parent and love gracefully.
Taking cues from stars' lifestyles posed challenges. It's easy to complain that stars have more money and access, but Bertsche gets creative by bartering babysitting and copy writing for a gym membership, and modifying recipes and clothing choices to save money.
Bertsche's experiment also suggests that even the fabulous are flawed. When trying to follow Gwyneth Paltrow's food rules and cooking techniques, Bertsche points out the unrealistic amount of time and money the actress's habits require, and fails her seven-day detox cleanse after two days of drinking a smoothie that tastes like "sweet earwax."
Bertsche offers some valuable tips — from how to create a signature style to how to nail Tina Fey's work ethic (hint: boycott social media and always carry a notebook). But the chapters on simulating the spark in Jennifer Garner's marriage to Ben Affleck, and following Julia Roberts' way of meditating to get more Zen, seem like guesswork.
The book would have more teeth if Bertsche had been able to interview any of the celebrities she writes about to get their take on whether their choices and routines actually lead to happiness. Instead, she relies on Google searches, magazine interviews and many assumptions for information.
Woven into the narrative of her celebrity makeover, Bertsche shares intimate details, including her determination to get pregnant despite fertility problems. Although she knows she has much to be thankful for in her life, her candor about her professional and personal disappointments adds another layer to her story.
At the beginning of the book, she's been laid off, and distracted by her desire for a baby, zapped of energy and motivation. "I had all the time in the world but I wasn't getting anything done," she says.
Following the celebrity formulas gives her structure and accountability, leading to "enthusiasm, drive and purpose." By the end, she's exercising regularly, eating healthy food, working more efficiently, dressing better and meditating — making her feel accomplished, and maybe a few inches closer to Aniston's famously coveted arms.
Bertsche says her efforts have made her feel like a better version of herself. Sure, it took a little navel gazing and celebrity worship to get there, but maybe that's what self-help for the selfie generation looks like. If you've ever had a celebrity girl crush, stick Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me in your beach bag. Bertsche is your people.