Cowriting my new children’s book, I Love My Body Because, was the utmost expression of my Jewish identity. I am the daughter of two rabbis, and three of my four siblings are either rabbis or studying to become rabbis, so Judaism is ingrained in my soul.
As an adult, I don’t focus on specific ritual laws. Instead, I prize tikkun olam, repairing the world, as the most sacred and divine activity in which we can engage.
My commitment to tikkun olam is integrated into my work. I am a children’s book author, and an artist who focuses on empowering female bodies through photography, a genre called boudoir. Since opening my studio in Brooklyn, in 2016, I have photographed over eight hundred women and have heard the pain, shame, and discontent they feel toward their bodies.
Images in the mainstream media that celebrate thinness as the paradigm of beauty disparage thousands of other body characteristics. This diminishes the vision of diversity and holiness that Judaism proclaims in Genesis when the Torah teaches that each person is created b’tzelem elohim—in the image of God. I feel the need to offer a broader vision of beauty that can heal everyone’s inner soul. I seek to help them to embrace the human form in all its variety and celebrate the things that their bodies have given them the opportunity to do.
I coauthored I Love My Body Because with my sister’s best friend from college, Shelly Anand. She visited our family one summer afternoon three years ago, when she had just sold her first children’s book, Laxmi’s Mooch—a story of body empowerment about a little girl with a mustache—to a publisher. It inspired me, and we started discussing my work and the fact that the way we feel about our bodies starts at such a young age. We decided to collaborate and see what we could create.
The process from there felt holy. When we started writing, the words flowed through our core to the page. It was seamless, it was therapeutic, it was a joy. When we showed our manuscript to Shelly’s agent, she signed us, and the book was purchased by Simon & Schuster within a couple of months. It felt like a process that was larger than ourselves — that it was an expression of our deepest hopes for a world that could be.
We hope that every child and adult who reads our book will understand that if we are all made in the image of God, we need to exercise more compassion for body diversity. If we bless the food before we eat, we need to also bless the body we are nurturing.
Today, the “compare and despair” environment is so prevalent that we forget to celebrate what our body can do, and only focus on what it can’t and what it isn’t. I believe that our neshama, our soul, is housed in this human vessel that we individually have been given through a divine and universal force. I believe it is holy to celebrate this form, and to give thanks to ourselves and to the universe for this precious gift.
When I dream about people reading I Love My Body Because, I think about my bat mitzvah speech, in which I discussed the line from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a): “Whoever saves a single life is considered by scripture to have saved a whole world.” If one child or adult feels better about their body by identifying with this book, then the mitzvah of tikkun olam has been fulfilled.
Nomi Ellenson is a boudoir photographer and body awareness artist in New York City. Her work focuses on celebrating the individuality and beauty of each woman she photographs. Nomi received her BA in psychology from Barnard College and splits her time between NYC and Montego Bay, Jamaica. Find her boudoir photography at www.boudoirbynomi.com