Cover: Perceived Physical Appearance

Perceived Physical Appearance

Assessing Measurement Equivalence in Black, Latino, and White Adolescents

Published in: Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2016

Posted on Jul 6, 2016

by Anna E. Epperson, Sarah Depaoli, Anna V. Song, Jan Wallander, Marc N. Elliott, Paula Cuccaro, Susan R. Tortolero, Mark A. Schuster

Research Question

  1. Does perception of one's own physical appearance, as measured by a commonly used scale, differ among black, Latino, and white adolescents?


This aim of this study was to examine whether the construct of physical appearance perception differed among the three largest racial/ethnic groups in the United States using an adolescent sample.


Black (46%), Latino (31%), and White (23%) adolescents in Grade 10 from the Healthy Passages study (N = 4,005) completed the Harter's Self-Perception Profile for Adolescents-Physical Appearance Scale (SPPA-PA) as a measure of physical appearance perception.


Overall, Black adolescents had a more positive self-perception of their physical appearance than Latino and White adolescents. However, further analysis using measurement invariance testing revealed that the construct of physical appearance perception, as measured by SPPA-PA, was not comparable across the three racial/ethnic groups in both males and females.


These results suggest that observed differences may not reflect true differences in perceptions of physical appearance. Measures that are equivalent across racial/ethnic groups should be developed to ensure more precise measurement and understanding.

Key Findings

  • Compared with white and Latino adolescents, black adolescents reported a more positive perception of their own physical appearance.
  • However, observed differences may be an artifact of the measurement scale itself and may not reflect true differences in how these groups of adolescents perceived themselves.


Researchers may need to develop racially/ethnically relevant measures for perceived physical appearance.

Interventions intended to address behaviors motivated by negative body image, such as unsafe weight loss methods, may need to be racially/ethnically relevant to ensure healthy and realistic perceptions about one's body and physical appearance.

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