rē•focusing On Our Breast Health
It's time to nourish them all year round.
Tara Elmore was only 37 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. This experience prompted the survivor to partner with her sister, Lisa Lundy, on personal care brand Complex Creatures. The goal? To rē-vert attention to breast health and to help reshape the complicated relationship women have with their own breasts.
“We realized that we’d only really thought about our boobs in terms of how they looked, what kind of bras we liked, or if they made enough milk,” says Elmore. She has spent her career as a photo director and producer for the likes of AD, Elle Decor, and One Kings Lane, and became a wellness and mindset coach following her breast cancer diagnosis. “And the more we talked with each other and the women in our lives, we realized that no one had a straightforward relationship with their breasts. Then we came across a statistic that blew our minds: 70% of women are dissatisfied with their breasts and are less likely to practice self-exams. So the fact that women didn’t like their breasts impacts more than self-esteem, sexual wellness, and body awareness—it can truly be life-threatening.”
October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the time of year when we become surrounded by messaging around breast health. While breast cancer affected 2.3 million women in 2020, there continues to be a lack of year-round care, education, and attention given to breast health. Through Complex Creatures, the sisters hope to make breast care a priority all the time, not just one month out of the year.
The Normalization of Breasts
Today, breasts are still highly sexualized in society and pop culture. As a result, they fall into the category of taboo and risqué, subject to uninvited criticism by others and ourselves. Moreover, they tend to be viewed subjectively through an aesthetic and sexualized lens. This consequently bleeds into our own perceptions of self. Lundy, who is considered at high-risk for breast cancer as Tara’s first-degree relative, puts it bluntly: “America is obsessed with breasts.”
“We’re all familiar with the kind of attention they get, their portrayal in media, porn, advertising, fashion,” adds Lundy, a brand marketer, and editorial director who has worked with brands such as J.Crew, Gap, Tamara Mellon, and Loveseen. “There’s so much incoming that tells us that breasts are for ‘others’ and that there’s probably something not quite right about yours. In the early days of creating Complex Creatures, we talked a lot about reclamation — taking back our breasts. They belong to us.”
Sure, attempts have been made to normalize breasts (“Free the Nipple” comes to mind). But there’s an overall lack of mainstream acceptance and neutralization of a body part that attracts unwanted attention. Even when breast health gets its moment to be at the forefront of people’s minds, it’s often confined to October, when we become inundated with pink and seemingly further removed from the message. Without this normalization, we’re left in a position where breasts exist primarily on a sexualized pedestal — even from a woman’s perspective.
“Society has a very narrow view about what ‘good boobs’ look like,” Elmore says. “Who’s allowed to see them? Where you’re allowed to show them. There are so many conflicting messages out there. This impacts our health because we become detached from our bodies, either because they don’t meet the ‘standards’ or we’ve been shamed or disconnected from them. And then we end up neglecting them. It’s complex, to say the least.”
Lundy adds, “They’re an important organ of the female body. We should be able to care for them, enjoy them, and have full agency over our bodies without shame or criticism.”
Breast Care is Self-Care
Complex Creatures seeks to incorporate breast care into our everyday routines, deeming it the final frontier of self-care. Their nutrient-packed Deep Reservoir Breast Oil is designed to promote massage. It simultaneously improves lymphatic flow while stimulating collagen. The calming High Vibe Healing Balm is formulated for skin undergoing radiation or recovering from surgery. It also features antibacterial properties to assist in healing and helps soften scars.
Breast care, the sisters say, goes beyond breast cancer detection and treatment and breastfeeding. “Complex Creatures elevates the experience from crisis to everyday care through products, education, and community. We’re looking at the life cycles of the breast from puberty to PMS, to menopause, and everything in between,” says Lundy. “It’s everything from what we ingest daily, the cleaning products we use, how we process stress, the environment we live in,” says Elmore.
Be Your Own Breast Advocate
Another part of introducing breast health into our self-care rituals is ensuring that we can be our own best advocates. Elmore and Lundy emphasize that it’s important to be cognizant of our own risks and to ask as many questions as deemed necessary. And if you’re not getting the help you desire from your healthcare provider, it’s time to consider a switch.
“Women need to advocate for their health all the time, especially when it comes to breast cancer,” says Lundy. “We hear so many stories from young women whose doctors initially dismissed them when they said they felt a lump or something unusual, only to be sent away, but eventually diagnosed.” Apps such as Know Your Lemons help keep you on track for self-checks, while The Breasties is a powerful community for people whose lives have been touched by breast cancer.
Elmore and Lundy see breast care in the same way — sometimes, there’s time for a quick dose of breast oil after a shower, other times for a full-on massage, and on the best days, a longer lymphatic massage. The most important thing that you can do is find a routine that you love and that suits your unique needs. “It has to work for you, or you won’t do it. Some time is better than none,” adds Elmore, who recommends Lisa Levitt Gainsley’s book, The Lymphatic Message.
“All of this can feel overwhelming, and so people sometimes throw their hands up, like ‘I can’t do all this. Forget it,'” they add. “We want Complex Creatures to be that friendly, gentle reminder to care about your breasts. There’s no perfect way, but there is so much opportunity to create intention around how to care for ourselves and our bodies every day.”