What woman hasn’t seen pictures of Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, or Beyoncé and wished she had their clothes, their abs, their seemingly flawless lives? For Rachel Bertsche, these celebrities are the epitome of perfection—self-assured and effortlessly cool. Yet lately, between juggling her career, her marriage, and her dream of becoming a mother, Bertsche feels anything but put together.
In Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me, Bertsche embarks on a quest to emulate her Hollywood role models—while sticking to a budget—to see if they really hold the keys to happiness. While trying to unlock the stars’ secrets, from Sarah Jessica Parker’s wardrobe to Julia Roberts’s sense of calm to—maybe one day—Jessica Alba’s chic pregnancy, Bertsche learns valuable lessons. A toned body doesn’t come easy or cheap, avoiding social media can do wonders for your peace of mind, and confidence is the key to pulling off any outfit. But can she immerse herself in the A-list lifestyle and still stay true to herself? And will her pursuit of perfection really lead to happiness?
Praise for Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me
“If you’ve ever had a celebrity girl crush, stick Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me in your beach bag. Bertsche is your people.”—Associated Press
“[A] super-fun social experiment.”—PureWow
“Bertsche ups the ante. . . . The well-researched information on celebrity culture provides food for thought.”—Booklist
“What makes Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me work is Bertsche’s honesty. . . . [She] is funny, creative and, more importantly, manages to stay sane.”—Boston Herald
“An entertaining memoir about a woman’s attempt to model her life on those of stars.”—Tampa Bay Times
“A worthy narrative.”—The Boston Globe
“Bertsche blends elements reminiscent of Julie & Julia and The Happiness Project in this ‘self-improvement journey.’ . . . The process not only provides Bertsche with fruitful writing fodder but also prompts readers to examine their outlook on perfection, self-acceptance, and aspiring to be one’s very best self.”—Publishers Weekly
Praise for Rachel Bertsche’s MWF Seeking BFF
“Written with verve, insight, and humor . . . Bertsche writes cleverly, but not glibly, about the challenges young women face today.”—Chicago Tribune
“[A] charming, funny chronicle.”—People
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JENNIFER ANISTON’S BODY
“My advice: just stop eating shit every day.”
—Harper’s Bazaar UK
“I work out almost every day, at least five or six days a week.”
“I’ve said it so many times: I’m going to have children. I just know it.”
The simple of act of preparing to be Jennifer Aniston is hard work. Before I dive into my research, I make a list of the words I associate with everyone’s favorite superstar. It reads as follows:
Not so impressive.
I need to ramp up my knowledge before diving into my new lifestyle, so for the next twenty-four hours I pore over Jen-related research. GQ, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Architectural Digest, Elle, InStyle, Fitness, People, Marie Claire, Self, Esquire, Good Housekeeping. With these magazines and more, plus TV and radio interviews, I read about fifty profiles and watch or listen to nearly twenty clips.
Ground rules have been set: I’ll only accept as truth the words that have come out of Jen’s mouth. Despite tabloid rumors that she has tested all-cucumber or baby-food-only diets, I won’t be incorporating those into my meal plan. I also won’t be spending $20,000 on new lighting in my home because 1) that’s insane and 2) just because Us Weekly reported it doesn’t mean it’s true.
Exceptions to the horse’s-mouth rule will be quotes from Jen-approved sources. Her trainer Mandy Ingber. Her private chefs, Jill and Jules Elmore. Her bestie, Courteney Cox. Jen has publicly confirmed these relationships, so I figure they’ve got no reason to lie.
After this day-long Aniston deep dive, my overall sense of the star, of what it takes to assume her level of fabulousness, is more well-rounded. If you read enough profiles, you get to know a person. Or, I should say, you think you do. If the writer does his job, you begin to understand the subject’s personality. Her demeanor. Her clothes. Her habits.
I’ve learned that Jen curses a lot, that she wears more black than any other color but considers herself a T-shirt-and-jeans kind of girl. She eats well and works out a ton (duh), though she doesn’t seem anxious to give in to America’s incessant hunger for every detail of her regimen. She seems tough. Not mean, but not warm-and-fuzzy, either. Guarded, independent, strong. She’s able to both laugh at herself and stand up for herself. I feel as if we could be friends, but also that Jen might have little patience for me. She seems confident and self-assured, and she might not be smitten with a pal who’s working so desperately to find nirvana that she’s resorted to simply copying other people, no matter how well-intentioned that copying may be.
The recurring theme in each article, be it from 1996 or 2013, is that Jen is America’s BFF, the girl next door, the relatable one. This image really exploded in 2005, when she and husband Brad Pitt split up. Suddenly Jennifer was the woman scorned, and Team Aniston worked its way into common vernacular.
We identified with her because she, like so many of us, got hurt by a man. We idolized her because she became an even better—funnier, hotter, more confident—version of herself in the face of that hurt. And now we cheer for her as she lives out her fairy-tale ending—the handsome new fiancé, the blinding engagement ring, the happier-than-ever glow.
The reality of the Jennifer Aniston story is unclear—we’ll never know how much of the whole love-triangle saga is true and how much of the narrative was created by the media—but we’ve adopted it as truth, and we follow it as if we’re attending to the dramas of our very closest pal.
Other nuggets from an education in Aniston: She believes in the power of girlfriends (as opposed to her supposed rival, Angelina Jolie, who has said repeatedly that she doesn’t have female friends), she smoked (but quit recently), she’s totally fine with semi-nude photos (with a bod like that, who can blame her?), and loves Mexican food and dirty martinis, though probably not together. There are some new-age hippy undertones to many of her musings, but just enough to make her sound laid-back and peaceful rather than kooky.
By the end of the day I’m excited to embark on this new lifestyle. If a 2008 Vogue photo spread is to be believed, Jennifer hit her peak at 40. I’m 30, and reading these profiles has me extra excited about the ten years ahead. Of being 43, she once told the CBS Morning Show: “I feel like I’m 30. I honestly didn’t start to feel my best until I was in my 30s. Physically, I started eating better and taking better care of my body.” And even though it’s the kind of stock sound bite you might hear from any “aging” Hollywood actress, I believe it. Despite all the money, power, and fame Jen has that I never will, her words make me feel like I, too, might be heading into my best decade.
This strange combination—A-list mega-star who still feels totally relatable—is the most interesting thing about Jen. Dreamworks CEO Stacey Snider said it best in that Vogue story: “She’s special enough to be somewhat unattainable but real enough that you can imagine a friendship, which is why you pursue her. . . . There’s something so pretty and sunny and winning about her. You bask in the reflection of her goldenness.”
An admission: This day spent researching—“Celebrity Eve” you might call it—could also be called my “Farewell to Food.” When I concocted the idea of trying to live like a celebrity, it sounded fun and glamorous. Now that I have a better sense of what it means to get Jennifer Aniston’s shape, I’m not so sure that “fun” is the word I’d use to describe it. I have days of dieting and working out ahead of me. Until then, I want to be sure I’ve tasted everything that Jennifer Aniston perhaps never has. A sticky bun for breakfast, a tomato and mozzarella with pesto sandwich for lunch, Chinese food (sesame chicken and veggie moo shu) for dinner, cupcake for dessert. It feels a bit like the night before the contestants go on The Biggest Loser, knowing that months of salmon and kale lie ahead. It also sort of grosses me out, and gives me the extra boost I need to dive into this endeavor.
With my final calorie binge behind me, I’m ready to chase the Jennifer Aniston lifestyle, specifically her hot body. If my goal for this project is to improve my overall existence—to go from unstructured scatterbrain to in-control, confident, happy, life-conquerer—I should start with my most basic possession, my physical self. It’s not just about having Jennifer’s lean legs and cut arms (though I’ll take two of each, please), it’s also about feeling healthy. Part of the reason I’ve had trouble living the life I want lately is because I haven’t had the energy, so I’m ready to make some changes.
Let me explain. Nine months ago, I lost my job. I worked at the website for a TV show that went off the air, and a large majority of my department got the boot. The layoffs weren’t a surprise, since we knew the show was ending, so I had planned for my officeless future. Or so I thought.
Careerwise, my preparation paid off. I knew I wanted to pursue full-time writing when the job was over, so I had started making contacts, pitching stories, and getting assignments. By the time I lost my steady paycheck, I felt confident that some money would roll in, and that I might actually be able to make a living out of doing what I love.
But I didn’t plan for the lack of routine. For the past eight years I got up at the same time, went into an office, and planned errands and workouts and dates with friends around the forty-hour workweek. When that lifestyle changed, I was pretty excited. Working out during the day! No more battling weekend crowds for groceries! Daily productivity . . . in pajamas!
As it turns out, the whole work-from-home thing is a blessing and a curse. On the days when I get up on time, put on jeans, and go to the coffee shop near my apartment, it’s an incredible gift. On the days when I snooze two hours past my alarm, forget to turn the lights on until 4 p.m., and don’t get around to showering, it’s, well, less than incredible. That’s when I feel like a mess, like someone paralyzed by a lack of structure, someone who can’t get anything done.
A few years ago, before I got married, I was the queen of routine. I woke up at 6:30 every morning, grabbed my exercise clothes and bagged lunch, and drove to the gym. I ran for forty-five minutes, usually five miles, and did sixty pushups before heading to work. I spent my days in the office, and evenings with Matt or friends or Law and Order: SVU. The repetitive nature of my life could be boring, for sure, but I rarely felt adrift. Then Matt and I got married and those five workouts a week turned into two or three, if that. When I became my own boss, I had just as much work to do, but a harder time getting myself in front of a desk to actually do it. A set schedule went by the wayside. The flexibility of my new lifestyle, complete with the ability to sleep through an alarm or work in my sweats, reinforced a general lethargy that affected my every day.
Which is how I ended up here.
Nine months later I feel like I’m constantly playing catch-up—my day should have started earlier, my house should be cleaner, my inbox should be more organized and my meals should be less processed.
I know what you’re thinking: You have a husband you love, a career you always wanted, you’re healthy and you’re happy and you’re complaining about . . . oversleeping? High-class problems.
But I’m not alone. In her book Be Happy Without Being Perfect: How to Break Free from the Perfection Deception, Dr. Alice Domar writes about the pressure women put on themselves to get everything right. “Whether or not we work outside the home, we hear little voices—from ourselves, from society—reminding us of what we ‘should’ be. From the minute we drag ourselves out of bed in the morning till the minute we fall asleep at night, we are inundated with messages that tell us we should be thin, beautiful, successful, and sexy while being exceptional parents, supportive spouses, superlative employees, and cheerful volunteers. Oh, and we’re supposed to get restaurant-quality Thanksgiving dinner for twenty-three people on the table without breaking a sweat. So, despite all the progress we’ve made, perfectionism is holding us back.”
Compared to some of Dr. Domar’s more extreme patients—women who feel like failures because they keep a cluttered closet or order too much takeout—my own perfectionist tendencies are pretty lax. I don’t yet have kids to feel guilty about leaving with a sitter and I can always go to bed no matter how many dishes are in the sink (just ask my husband). I’ll never offer to host Thanksgiving and I don’t mind asking for help when I need it. But I’m someone who dreams of a life where everything has its place. I’d like to cross an errand off my to-do list, and make my bed, and cook for my husband, and run five miles, and chat on the phone with long-distance friends, and see local friends, and meditate, and drink forty-eight fluid ounces of water, and write at least one thousand words, and read forty pages, and get eight hours of sleep . . . Every. Single. Day.
I’m no therapist, so I don’t know if these desires qualify me as a “normal” perfectionist (“striving for reasonable and realistic standards that leads to a sense of self-satisfaction and enhanced self-esteem”) or a “neurotic” one (“a tendency to strive for excessively high standards . . . motivated by fears of failure and concern about disappointing others”). Probably somewhere in between. I doubt the standards I strive for are always reasonable or realistic, but I’m not afraid of failing at said goals, either. I’ve failed at them plenty—never have I come close to crossing off all the items on my wish list—and I’ve gotten by. Dr. Domar warns that perfectionism is bad for a woman’s mental state. We are constantly striving for the impossible, falling short, and beating ourselves up about it, she says. Research backs her up. One 2007 study found that perfectionists are at a greater risk for mental distress, and that the condition is often at the root of issues like depression and addiction. But the reason I want to tackle all the items on that laundry list—the cooking and the running and the reading—is because I really do believe it will make me happy. I picture myself going to sleep in a previously unknown state of Zen, in which I can rest easy knowing I’ve done everything I set out to do. Research says otherwise, but sometimes I can’t shake the feeling that checkmarks on the to-do list pave the road to happiness.
My emotional self is clearly at odds with my rational self, the one that buys into science and studies. But here’s what I do know: I’m in the company of millions of women across the country, all of whom are trying to get a firm grasp on every moving part in the orbit of their lives.
Before I even launch my pursuit to live Jennifer’s life, I’m faced with one minor catch. I don’t have Jennifer’s money. She has a personal trainer, private chef, hairstylist, and probably a wardrobe stylist, too. I canceled my gym membership when I lost my job and cook about once a month, instead opting for frozen Trader Joe’s meals that I tell my mother-in-law I “prepare.”
To be Jennifer Aniston you need access to a gym. The one near my apartment—with the hardest classes in Chicago and trainers who already have Jen-caliber bodies—costs $195 a month. And so, after trying out a class a few weeks back, I approached the front desk.
“Do you guys have any plans to do a Groupon?” I asked the studio’s owner.
“We don’t,” she said. We had chatted when I first signed up, so she knew my employment situation. “You were just laid off, right?”
“Yup. Which means I have plenty of time to work out,” I said. “But less money to work out with.”
She smiled a that-sucks-but-there’s-nothing-I-can-do smile.
“Maybe you need someone to work the front desk?” I asked.
“You want desk hours? Could you watch kids?” She nodded to the Kids Club, the studio’s version of childcare.
“Um, sure,” I said. I was a babysitter once. Fifteen years ago, but no matter. I’m 30. I can watch a kid or two for an hour. “Would I get discounted classes?”
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Jennifer Aniston's Body 3
Chapter 2 Gwyneth Paltrow's Kitchen 38
Chapter 3 Sarah Jessica Parker's Wardrobe 68
Chapter 4 Tina Fey's Work Ethic 94
Chapter 5 Jennifer Garner's Marriage 120
Chapter 6 Julia Roberts's Serenity 148
Chapter 7 Jessica Alba's Pregnancy 175
Chapter 8 Beyoncé: The Whole Package 203
Living the Celebrity Life (With a Regular Person's Time and Money): A Handy Guide 229