Wide-eyed Wonder: an artist's musings on three-dimensional vision

Some are color blind. I am stereo blind.

Hidden Strabismus (or Unstable Eyes are Beautiful)

with 13 comments

There are strabismics who really look cross-eyed or wall-eyed with marked turn-in or turn-out … and then there are the strabismics who don’t get noticed, don’t need eye surgery, and may not even think they are strabismic until the right optician, optometrist or opthamologist takes the time to tell them so.

Strabismus can be missed or hidden
– if the eye turn-in or turn-out is not constant, but intermittent
– if the eye turn-in or turn-out alternates
– if the angle of turn-in or turn-out is small (positive or negative angle of 15° or less)

I’m not sure if Keira Knightley is aware that her eyes alternately turn out with a small negative angle, at least in many of her photographs. Most times her right eye is turned out, sometimes her left. Her eyes do align occasionally which makes her exotropia (turn out) intermittent and even more difficult to detect.

Pride and Prejudice © Universal Studios

Elizabeth and Jane get ready for the ball

Note in this first screen shot from my Pride and Prejudice DVD, the catchlights are in the same place in each of Jane’s eyes, but not in Elizabeth’s. The light should be contained within the iris of her left eye, but instead lands on the edge.

Pride and Prejudice © Universal Studios

Alternately, Elizabeth's right eye turns out

Keira has made the most of her unstable eyes through acting. Instead of becoming embarrassed and socially withdrawn, she took dance [1] to acquire needed grace and worked to look others in the eye while making her own eyes expressive. Her mother is a former actress and playwright and her father is an actor. At age 3, Kiera asked for an agent, to be like them. [2]

Keira had been diagnosed with dyslexia at 6, and worked to overcome her reading difficulties to get that agent: ”I was so single-minded about acting,” Knightley says. ”I drove myself into the ground trying to get over dyslexia and when I finished school I had the top grades.” [3]

With her apparent (to me) almost constant alternating exotropia, it’s no wonder she has struggled with reading! The problem might not be dyslexia. Most folks with exotropia also struggle with convergence insufficiency, a condition that can often be corrected through vision therapy to train the eyes to converge at near and far, and gain other reading skills.

Read one Doctor’s story here: visionhelp.wordpress.com

While one eye turns out, fusion to gain stereoposis (or binocular 3D vision) is impossible because the eyes are not aligned during turn out. When Keira was filmed on the cliff looking out, I wonder if her eyes momentarily aligned to see the palpable space … or if the vast landscape before her was as flat as a painting due to intermittent alternating exotropia?

Keira getting tethered in.

View from Stanage Edge


Written by Lynda Rimke

February 17, 2011 at 11:31 am

13 Responses

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  1. When she was on the cliff, it was probably chroma keyed in.


    February 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm

  2. … it is funny to think she was seeing green screen, or maybe the parking lot behind the studio instead.

    But I just researched this, after your comment at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0414387/locations and she was definitely standing on Stanage Edge, Hathersage Moor, Hathersage, Derbyshire, England, UK


    February 18, 2011 at 8:05 pm

  3. Lynda,
    I LOVE this post! As a strabismic myself, it often feels like the world of mis-aligned eyes is a small and hidden one … yet, as you point out, our “strabosphere” is larger than we thought … and, Keira is proof that strabismus doesn’t have to hold us back … we can accomplish ANYTHING with perserverance and dedication! (This is my pep speech as I approach vision therapy!)

    Is it true that it’s harder to gain stereopsis when an eye turns out? I hadn’t heard that before …


    February 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    • Traci, thanks for the kind comment. I also am encouraged by Keira’s can-do attitude, and I identify with her competitive spirit, too.

      The prognosis for success for folks with eye turn out is actually better than for eye turn in; and it’s also better if your turn out or turn in is NOT alternating, if I understood my therapist correctly when she explained why my my own prognosis was poor.

      Keira is clearly alternating in these photos, but her prognosis would be better than mine because her eyes turn out, not in. And in her case, she does have some eye-teaming at times during the movie (I was watching closely.) This would make her prognosis even better. If I was an optometrist or a close friend, I would be suggesting and eye exam and possible vision therapy.

      Lynda Rimke

      February 19, 2011 at 2:08 pm

      • Hi Lynda! I am loving your blog. As Traci mentioned, it’s heartening to read about prominent folks with various forms of strabismus. I heard that alternating strabismus is better, because if it’s just one eye turning in, it’s more likely to get tuned out by the brain. If the eyes take turns being dominant, then amblyopia is less likely to occur. I could be wrong, but recall hearing that at one point.


        March 6, 2011 at 9:23 pm

      • Hi Amber, I’m glad to hear from you. I’m not sure Keira would be happy about my “discovery,” but I’m am encouraged by her can-do spirit. You are correct that alternators are less likely to have amblyopia. In fact, my lack of amblyopia was my optician’s main reason for diagnosing me as an alternator. I’ve been using the non-dominant eye enough to avoid amblyopic deterioration of vision.

        However, alternators will have a tougher time with eye teaming. Why? because our brains are programmed to switch eyes, and we have to override that in order to get our two wild eyes to team up. Alternators with turn-in will also have a more difficult time training the eyes to “widen” as it is much easier to turn-in one’s eyes and next to impossible to consciously turn them out.

        Lynda Rimke

        March 7, 2011 at 8:55 am

  4. Lynda,
    I’ve been reading this entry, and saw both the ‘before’ and after–I love the evidence you found about the photo shoot! Fascinating.

    And I think you make a very good point, imagining her perception of that cliff’s edge…reminds me of Sue Barry’s experience in Hawaii after she recently acquired her 3D vision: “I went right up to the protective railing to take in the view. Suddenly, I felt like I was floating unsupported…I quickly backed away…later on that day…I felt panicked every time my children or husband approached the cliff’s edge.” p.128


    February 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    • Thanks, Sally, for finding and posting Sue Barry’s cliff’s edge experience as a 3D newbie. I wonder if we’ll be as terrified? I already get sweaty palms when loved ones approach an observation rail (I don’t) and I see flat!

      Lynda Rimke

      February 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm

      • Lynda, I thought of you again, as I read Oliver Sack’s _The Mind’s Eye_, as he discusses his loss of stereoscopic vision on page 187-8:
        “…I have lost my fear of heights. I used to feel…a slight sense of alarm, when I looked down from a tall building to the street below. …In Topanga Canyon, I would avoid getting near the precipitous edges of the winding canyon road….But now that I have lost depth perception, these feelings have disappeared, and I can look down from great heights with complete indifference.”


        March 26, 2011 at 4:06 pm

  5. […] attractive blog.  Her blog is also comprehensive, because in addition to her personal stories and pop culture examples she offers her notes on Frederick Brock’s work and examples of visual cues that convey depth, […]

  6. Just chanced upon this … I’d have never noticed that! You have great observation skills :) and Keira is just beautiful!

    Another celebrity that has slight exotropia but can also align her eyes at times is Kate Moss (and Lily Cole, but hers is less frequent and hence less noticeable). I think the term for such cases of slight exotropia (which is supposed to be photogenic) is ‘strabismo di venere’, which alludes to the Venus in Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.


    October 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    • Interesting! I found a .jpg of said Venus with “strabismo di venere” in the file name, but can’t find any source for English to further explain it.

      “Venere” simply means “Venus” so perhaps an Iltalian labled the jpg “strabismus of Venus”? which, when I look at her catchlights appears to be psuedostrabismus, where her eyes are aligned with catchlights in the same place, but look off due to the shape of the eyelid. Chelsea Clinton is a good example of this, as are most Asians and many bablies.

      I’ll have to check out Kate Moss images! Thanks for commenting and let’s go ahead and make “strabismo di venere” a sign of beauty!

      Lynda Rimke

      October 9, 2011 at 2:45 pm

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