04/29/2015 04:34 pm ET Updated Apr 29, 2015

'Salty Girls' Photo Series Challenges Notions Of Beauty And Cystic Fibrosis

Photographer and art director Ian Pettigrew was working on a photo series he called "Just Breathe: Cystic Fibrosis" when he realized the majority of his models were beautiful young women.

"'Salty Girls' sprung out from my first book, Just Breathe, which focused just on adults with CF," the 45-year-old Ontario native, who also has cystic fibrosis, told The Huffington Post by email Wednesday. "As that project progressed it was clear that there was a disproportionate amount of women, and it was remarked that 'this project is just a bunch of hot women with cystic fibrosis.'"

Thus began the "Salty Girls" project: a photo series featuring women with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening inherited illness that affects the cells that produce sweat, mucus and digestive juices, and can damage the lungs and digestive system. It mainly affects white people of Northern European ancestry, according to Mayo Clinic, but can also be present in Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans. There is no cure, but it can be mitigated with medications or medical instruments that help loosen the mucus and make breathing easier.

Cystic fibrosis can be an overlooked and misunderstood disease, and those dealing with it face significant challenges. Pettigrew's models posed in tank tops, bikinis and nothing at all in an attempt to challenge the misconceptions.

"Unfortunately body-shaming is still very much real and prevalent," he said. "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. No one has the right to criticize or shame someone, especially when you don't know the facts -- like someone who has side affects from CF. They can be brutal. 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."

"Salty Girls" is slated to become a book. Check out some of the stunning portraits below.

Salty Girls