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What is ZENTAI?
Skin tight suits that cover the entire body are commonly called zentai (from the Japanese ゼンタイ). This is likely a contraction of zenshin taitsu (全身タイツ)or full-body tights. Zentai is most commonly made using nylon/spandex blends, but other materials such as cotton and wool are used as well.
Such suits were first developed for use in modern dance, but are now used in the arts to diminish the presence of an actor in a scene. In fact, in the traditional Japanese art of puppetry called bunraku the apprentice performers are completely covered in black garments against a black background to produce the same effect. Zentai is also used by artists as a medium to accentuate the body, sometimes making use of vibrant patterns. By making the performer anonymous, the performance of the body itself becomes the focus.
In major cities worldwide (but especially in Japan), zentai suits are becoming an increasingly common sight as recreational wear for both men and women at a wide variety of events ranging from conventions to dance clubs, furthering the growing popularity of the subculture.
Flesh tone cotton suits are often used by cosplayers to provide a base layer that looks like the cel-shaded skin of the animated character. When such zentai are worn under masks painted to resemble a characters drawn features, the total effect is called kigurumi.
In film and television special effects, solid-colored zentai suits are sometimes used to chroma-key or digitally remove actors from a scene.
The suits are also finding a place as a useful tool for meditation. It can provide a medium for body awareness, a focus for meditation via the senses by allowing for both sensory deprivation as well as sensory enhancement, as well as a symbolic barrier between the self and the world. It also allows the wearer to experience a sense of nakedness without the exposure of being truly nude, especially when one meditates outdoors.
In other uses, multiple organizations including NASA have experimented with a skintight space suit to replace current air-pressurized designs (with a transparent dome helmet instead of a soft fabric hood). This design is tentatively named a space activity suit.
With practical uses aside, zentai is also strongly associated with spandex fetishism. Indeed, zentai fechi (ゼンタイフェチ) literally means zentai fetish. Some zentai fetishists are after the experience of total enclosure, while for others it provides a way to anonymously enjoy exhibitionism. One might also experience it as a form of sexual bondage, even though it does not restrict the motion of the body or even act as an effective blindfold. However, there are also those who enjoy zentai for the recreational sensory novelty or physical comfort without any sexual connotations.
A catsuit is a skin-tight one-piece garment with sleeves and long legs, and sometimes with feet or gloves, sometimes with a hood (the combination of which turns it into a zentai suit). It usually has a zip closure in the front or back, but other necklines are possible.
Unlike a unitard, its use rarely involves sports, and it is usually made of leather, rubber/latex, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or velour as well as the more normal spandex. It is identical to a unitard in construction, but the term catsuit tends to be preferred in fancy-dress costume or erotic contexts.
Catsuits date back at least as far as the 1940s with wetsuits appearing in the early 1950s. Although most catsuits are now made of spandex, that fabric was not invented until 1959, so it seems likely they were first made of knits or hand knitting-a rather more practical and cheaper fabric than rubber.
The catsuit has appeared in a number of movies and television series:
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Razor Blade Smile
Star Trek: Voyager
The catsuit has also appeared in a some music videos:
Oops... I Did It Again - Britney Spears in a red catsuit
Just a Little - Liberty