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This photo series featuring women with cystic fibrosis is beautiful and powerful

This is what hope and survival look like.


Jam Kotenko


Posted on Apr 28, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 11:19 pm CDT

In an effort to put the spotlight on the life-threatening ailment cystic fibrosis (CF), which affects more than 70,000 people globally, Canadian fashion photographer Ian Pettigrew has created Salty Girls, a photo project using CF patients as models.

The idea arose from another CF-related compilation, Just Breathe: Adults with Cystic Fibrosis, a book of portraits that Pettigrew has been working on since last year. After a friend commented that his portfolio focused heavily on conventionally attractive women, Pettigrew realized how inspiring it would be to use his work as a way to educate people about the disorder.

“I know what these women go through on a daily basis,” Pettigrew, a CF patient himself, explained on his website. “Everyday it’s a struggle living with CF. And, to the uninformed, it is the invisible fatal disease.”

Salty Girls aims to portray the sickness in a more positive and hopeful light. (The series is named after one of CF’s known symptoms, which is an increased amount of salt in the skin and sweat.) Pettigrew’s book features 56 adult women in various stages of undress, feeling free and alive in their own skin, proudly brandishing their scars and medical equipment.

Salty Girls: The Women of Cystic Fibrosis/Facebook

Salty Girls: The Women of Cystic Fibrosis/Facebook

Salty Girls: The Women of Cystic Fibrosis/Facebook

Salty Girls: The Women of Cystic Fibrosis/Facebook

CF is a potentially deadly genetic disease that causes the body to produce an abnormally thick mucus that hampers lung and digestive functions, thereby weakening the body and making it more prone to infection. Nearly 1,000 new cases of the disease are diagnosed annually, and more than 75 percent of CF sufferers are diagnosed at a very early age. To date, a cure for CF has not been discovered.

The lack of CF awareness, as well as the absence of a known cure for the disease, is precisely why Pettigrew created Salty Girls. Now that Pettigrew’s project has gained traction on social media, there’s been an outpouring of gratitude from members of the CF community.

“My nine-year-old son, who is loving, amazing, strong and who, everyday through his actions, never lets me forget how precious family is, has CF. Any chance we get to raise awareness we will take. Thank you from a father and husband that you will never meet for the efforts and selflessness you have shown to help us raise awareness,” a commenter on Salty Girls’ official Facebook page wrote. Another user requested that Pettigrew develop a male-centric version of the book.

In an interview with the Daily Dot, Pettigrew shared that although he has not given any thought to a “Salty Men” Project, he reckons that in light of the recent media attention surrounding Salty Girls, he’d like to add another volume to the series. The whole project, he says, has taken on a life of its own.

“Women started contacting me directly, and as I was photographing for the Just Breathe book, I was also taking their picture for Salty Girls,” Pettigrew said in an email to the Daily Dot. “There are very few requirements. [You need to] have CF, be female and at least 19, be willing to show some scars and skin.”

Pettigrew wants to have the Salty Girls book printed by September or October. He’s also planning to launch a similar project that focuses on families with young children afflicted with CF. 

“These women are inspirational and fearless, and we want to show hope for those younger CFers,” he said. “This will be a revolutionary, game-changing book.”

Update 2:03pm CT, Apr. 30: This story has been updated with an interview with Pettigrew.

H/T Daily Mail | Screengrab via Ian Pettigrew

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*First Published: Apr 28, 2015, 7:20 pm CDT