What Happened When This Woman Tried To Live Like Jen & Gwyn

emPhoto: Courtesy of Random House.
Chicago author Rachel Bertsche, like so many of us, wondered what it was like to live a celebrity lifestyle. But, instead of just dreaming about it while flipping through a copy of US Weekly (or reading Refinery29), Bertsche turned a self-exploration exercise into her latest memoir, Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me.
Sound crazy? Not for this gal. The New York transplant's debut book, MWF Seeking BFF, was about how she went on a mission to find solid friendships as an adult in the Windy City. Admittedly, Bertsche is constantly on a quest to improve her life. So, what's it like to wear a tutu like SJP and workout like Jennifer Aniston? Each chapter of her newest read will help you find your inner sartorial superstar, writer, health nut, and more — even without a celebrity bank account.

What inspired you to take on the challenge of living a celebrity lifestyle?

“No matter where you live, there’s this constant barrage of images of celebrities being fabulous, whether online, on reality shows, and in magazines and movies. With that being said, I think I was inspired because my whole life felt kind of blah. So, if I could get myself together to look equally as fabulous just going to the grocery store like these celebrities, then maybe I would have that glow, too. I work from home, so it’s very easy to find that it’s 4 p.m., I’m still in my pajamas staring at my computer."

Why do you feel celebrity diets, workouts, and clothing constantly have our attention?

“That’s a great question and is something I’ve always been trying to figure out. I think there’s obviously a mystique to it. It’s fun to sort of imagine yourself in their world by observing. I think that’s why Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous was as popular as it was. But, now things are different because unlike one television show, it seems like we’re constantly hearing about celebrities — whether it’s an amazing closet, or someone pumping gas. I think people like seeing how they are connected to celebrities — which is why I think “Stars — They're Just Like Us!” is so successful."

How did you go about choosing role models like Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tina Fey, Julia Roberts, Beyoncé, etc. for your book/lifestyle inspiration?

“I tried to pick people who I felt were the most iconically focused on a certain lifestyle. So, SJP is known for fashion, and Jennifer Aniston has been chosen for having the body that women desire. And, as a writer, I would kill for Tina Fey's career. So, I tried to pick people who I admire, yet were also super A-list. That said, if I did this same project in 10 years, it would be an entirely different group of women."


Which woman made you learn the most about yourself?

“They all had a certain affect on me, but if I had to think of the one thing that has changed in my life, it was because of the Sarah Jessica Parker chapter. I know I like to get dressed up and look cute, but I’m not a total fashionista, so it’s easy for me to stay in sweats all day. So, I found that by putting on a cute outfit — even if I’m staying home all day — really does affect my whole outlook, including productivity and that 'conquer the world' attitude on the inside. While it’s not revolutionary advice, it has had a positive affect on me.”

We love that you admit to having days where you stay in your PJs — guilty as charged. Do you have a favorite pair?

"I love my PJ Salvage pajamas! My sister-in-law bought me a pair earlier this year, and I feel like they changed my life. They are comfy yet so cute, so I don’t look like I’m in my granny’s sweatpants.”

How did you go about living like a celeb on a real gal's budget?

“These days you have much more access to the 'helpers' that the celebrities have, so you kind of feel like you have a way to access these stars resources. You don’t have to have a personal trainer or chef. Go on YouTube and look up videos for free from Mandy Ingber (Aniston's yoga teacher), buy a celebrity cookbook like Paltrow's.

"Another thing that is really helpful, since many celebs have stylists and not all of us have that luxury, is to frequent a particular boutique. After a while, it's almost like having your own personal stylist. They can suggest pieces that work really well with your wardrobe or body, so you feel like you're getting celeb treatment. For example, this woman I'd regularly visit at a boutique around the corner from me helped me figure out how to wear a tutu (an SJP statement piece) without looking like a creepy lunatic."
 Jennifer Troyer PhotographyPhoto: Courtesy of Jennifer Troyer Photography.

Your first book, MWF Seeking BFF, is about a big-city transplant hoping to find a best friend in Chicago. Why was this self-exploration process so important to you? What do you hope your readers will get out of it?

“I am always in the search of ways to improve myself or my life. But, writing that story was on my mind because I moved from NYC to Chicago, and I just didn’t have those best friends anymore who I could invite over on a Friday night for a glass of wine. So, I spent a year looking for my new BFF, going on what I called friend dates, 52 over the course of a year. But, it was really about how hard it is to make new friends when you’re in an adult world. Also, I think that it’s very important to remember that even though life gets busy, don't put going out with friends in a luxury category because spending the time is very important for your mental and physical health."

Is it harder to make friends in New York or Chicago? Or, are the cities equal?

“When I moved here, I found that a lot of people I met already had very deep social networks, so it was hard for me to break in. A lot of my closest friends I made here are people who are also transplants on the same search."

Where are some places you feel Chicagoans can find/cultivate these relationships? What worked for you?

"I took an improv class at the Second City, which is totally out of my wheelhouse. I am not a performer, so I was terrified. But, improv is such a quintessential Chicago thing, and forced togetherness can be good. I ended up making some great relationships during that class. Before I knew it, I was grabbing dinner and drinks with people. So, even if you’re scared, just get up the courage to sign up."

You were the sex columnist at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Was this a Carrie Bradshaw Sex in the City kind of thing, or was it more educational?

“It was a little bit of both. I think it’s funny you mentioned that because I reference SJP a lot and I never really thought of myself like a Carrie Bradshaw-type person at all. In fact, in the first column I ever wrote my senior year in college was called 'I’m not Carrie Bradshaw.' But, I had a lot of fun doing it, and I definitely look back on it now and can’t believe some of the things I wrote. Personal memoirs were something I always wanted to do, so this was a great opportunity — even though I remember my father wrote me an email after the first one saying, ‘I’m a very proud father even though my jaw is on the floor.'”

Live in Chicago? Meet Rachel at one of three talk/book signings this month at: Vernon Area Public Library (July 8; 7 p.m.), Highland Park Library (July 10; 7 p.m.), and the Book Cellar (July 23; 7 p.m.).

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