If scars are battle wounds, Kayla Mavretic is a true warrior.
The permanent markings spread across her torso are a sign of survival for the 25-year-old who, at age 16 received a third of her stepfather’s liver, and just last year, a new set of lungs — all stemming from a lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis.
“It’s been breathtaking,” the longtime Sarnian living in Ottawa said of life at 18-months post-transplant. “But also, very hard at times. My blood levels haven’t been stable, so I’ve been in and out of hospital quite a bit.”
Along the way, accepting her body — which has been beaten down by the fatal genetic disease — hasn’t been easy.
“I’ve never worn a bikini,” she said. “I’ve never even shown my stomach.”
So when Canadian photographer Ian Pettigrew invited her to be part of a groundbreaking photo series highlighting the bodies of women living with CF, Mavretic was hesitant at first.
“I was pretty self conscious,” she said. But when she learned the project was aimed at promoting healthy body image among young women, while raising awareness of the disease, she knew she wanted to be a part of it.
The resulting photo series and book, “Salty Girls” has already attracted international attention for its powerful images of the women who, including Kayla, get to tell their individual stories. The title refers to those living with CF, who notably have more chloride (salt) in their sweat.
“When I saw the pictures, I was amazed, and honoured to be a part of it,” said Mavretic, who works as a nanny in Ottawa but makes trips back to Sarnia, where she spent most of her life and where family and friends still live.
“It was the first time I really felt confident in myself, and I get to share that with women all over the world.”
The project, she hopes, will help put an end to body shaming — something she was guilty of in the past.
“No more feeling embarrassed. I want this project to inspire young women to embrace their scars,” said Mavretic. “Because that’s what it did for me.”
For more about Salty Girls, visit http://www.ianpettigrew.com/salty-girls.html
For more on Kayla, visit “Kayla’s Medical Journey” on Facebook.