Teaching Students About Gladys Portugues

As educators, it is essential to teach our students about influential and inspiring figures throughout history. One such person is Gladys Portugues, a pioneering female bodybuilder and fitness icon who broke the mold and empowered women to take charge of their physical health. This article will discuss Portugues’ life and achievements, reasons why her story is essential for students to learn, and how to incorporate her inspiring journey into your curriculum.

Gladys Portugues: Early Life and Passion for Fitness

Born on September 30, 1957, in Manhattan, New York, Gladys Portugues was introduced to fitness at a young age through her father, who was a professional boxer. As a teenager, she engaged in various sports but ultimately fell in love with bodybuilding after discovering it while attending Marymount Manhattan College. In the male-dominated world of fitness during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Portugues knew that she was breaking barriers by pursuing her passion.

Achievements as a Pioneer in Female Bodybuilding

Portugues competed professionally throughout the 1980s, earning several titles along the way. Some of her achievements include winning the Northeastern Regional Championship and placing highly at multiple Ms. Olympia competitions – the most prestigious title in female bodybuilding. Apart from her competitive success, Portugues is also recognized as one of the first women to bring wider attention to the sport by appearing on magazine covers showcasing her impressive physique.

Empowering Women Through Physical Strength

Portugues’ accomplishments went beyond competition stages; she aimed to inspire other women to embrace their physical strength. Through fitness books, workout videos, and public appearances, she sought to eliminate stereotypes surrounding female bodybuilders and promote strength as a form of beauty. Her message of empowerment reached an even broader audience when she married Belgian action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, raising awareness of female bodybuilding’s legitimacy even further.

Incorporating Gladys Portugues’ Story into the Curriculum

Teaching students about influential individuals such as Portugues allows them to explore various aspects of perseverance, self-discipline, and empowerment in a more relatable and engaging manner. Here are some ways to incorporate her story into your curriculum:

1. Classroom discussions: Encourage students to engage in conversations about overcoming societal norms and challenging stereotypes, using examples from Portugues’ life.

2. Sports history: Incorporate female bodybuilding’s history into your sports lessons, emphasizing the importance of inclusivity and equal representation.

3. Biography project: Have students research and write a biography on Portugues, highlighting her significant achievements and contributions to women’s empowerment.

4. Creative writing assignment: Motivate students to write a fictional story inspired by Portugues’ life, focusing on themes like perseverance, determination, and breaking barriers.


Teaching your students about Gladys Portugues will provide them with a valuable opportunity to learn about a remarkable woman who defied societal expectations and emphasized the importance of physical strength for all genders. By incorporating her inspiring story into classroom discussions, projects, and creative assignments, you will encourage students to view fitness as a means of empowerment and promote conversations surrounding gender equality and positive body image.

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