Gina Mei
May 01, 2015 2:53 pm

A few years ago, photographer and art director Ian Pettigrew was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening and incurable genetic disease that targets the cells that produce sweat, mucus, and digestive juices, and causes major damage to the lungs and digestive system. It’s a disease that we don’t often talk about, especially given how common it is. But Pettigrew hopes to change that with his latest photo series, “Salty Girls.” (The name refers to the fact that CF causes increased levels of chloride in sweat, which is one of the most reliable ways to test for the disease.)

In the series, Pettigrew features women (though the disease hits both genders) in various states of dress in order to show that CF comes in all shapes and sizes, and that beauty and strength can be found even amid the pain. Due to medical advances in the last 20 years, CF can now be managed with medications and various medical instruments which help make breathing easier by loosening mucus in the lungs, and those with CF are living longer than ever before. “Salty Girls” aims to create visibility, to increase awareness, and expand our collective ideas of beauty.

“Unfortunately body-shaming is still very much real and prevalent,” Pettigrew told The Huffington Post. “The CF community is not immune to it. Kids can be mean, but so can adults. Part of the goal of this project was for the women to take back that power, to make it theirs and own it.”

When our definition of beauty and the “ideal” body is so limited, it ends up leaving many out of the picture. But we all deserve to feel strong and confident, especially those not traditionally celebrated in popular media. No one should feel ashamed of how they look, and by normalizing and celebrating a diverse range of women, we can begin to change our perceptions of what “beautiful” looks like.

No one has the right to criticize or shame someone, especially when you don’t know the facts — like someone who has side effects from CF. They can be brutal,” he continued. “Hopefully this can teach others to truly stand up and be proud. I consider these women my ambassadors for a generation to come, and they are all proud to carry that torch.”

The photos are empowering. Our bodies are maps of all that we’ve been through, and that should be part of what makes them so amazing. Our scars show our histories, our struggles, our triumphs; they should be something we honor, not something we criticize. All bodies are beautiful and worthy of our love and appreciation, and “Salty Girls” is the perfect reminder of just how true that is.

“To me, being one of the Salty Girls is a statement of confidence,” one participant told Refinery29. “‘Salty Girls’ helps those of us who don’t look ‘normally’ attractive to embrace our bodies, scars and all, and feel good about ourselves.”

“It took a huge amount of courage for me to be able to expose my body for ‘Salty Girls,'” another participant said. “But, [my scars] will never define me as a person. . . My scars tell me that no matter the BS I’ve had to deal with in my life, I still manage to keep the fire in my spirit burning.”

Check out a few of the photos below, and more at Pettigrew’s website here. (The series is even slated to become a book later this year!)

(All images via Ian Pettigrew.)

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