Cecile sitting on the towering chair of her office in BGC
“As a former journalist, Cecile Zamora – van Straten has no problem putting her ideas into writing. But when asked about her thought process, Chuvaness—as she’s referred to by her fans—says, “My brain is like Divisoria!”
It’s that outspoken personality that makes Cecile appealing to her readers. She speaks in metaphors and superlatives. “Security Bank is the BEST bank. It is!” She exclaims during our interview, “We had all our money before in [bank name withheld] – I felt like ang sama ng. service. I told my dad and he said ‘E, ba’t kasi kayo nandoon, Security Bank dapat.’ It’s been smooth ever since.”
We won’t lie, it’s great being on Cecile’s good side. Throughout her blogging career, the mom of three has inadvertently courted controversy with her no holds barred writing style and willingness to discuss sensitive topics. Her bluntness comes at a cost: “I don’t have thick skin—I’ve been bullied so many times. I hate it. It makes me want to stop,” she confesses.
What doesn’t stop, however, is the abundance of success in her business and personal life. She’s held on to a simple idea, one passed down to her by her father. “My dad taught me not to hold on to money so much. Like, ‘wag maging kuripot (don’t be stingy). I feel that if you want your money to grow, you should help out. Help people or go shopping [laughs].”
For Cecile, it’s about making everyone feel that they matter—that they’re valued—and her philosophy has certainly rewarded her. “I like sharing so I tend to give away a lot but it seems to come back to me even more.”
As the interview went on, it became clear why this do-it-all-mom has amassed such a huge following online: it’s difficult not to get drawn in by her mix of authenticity and painfully honest opinions, delivered in intriguing lightheartedness. If her fans and critics have one thing in common, it’s that—more than a decade later—everyone is still keen to hear what Cecile Zamora – van Straten has to say next.
I started blogging around 15 years ago. I started really early. When blogging was new, there were no rules, you could do anything. We would write anything and the blog title was just like a joke. And then, sometime around 2001, there was a show called Meteor Garden.
There’s a group called F4, and one of them was Vanness Wu. Since my girlfriends and I were kind of bakla, we used the word chuvaness, which is a term you use when you’re stuck and can’t find the right word—like it’s at the tip of your tongue. I actually lifted Chuvaness from Vanness Wu. That became my blog but the title was just a joke. But then it got popular, so even if I wanted to change it, I couldn’t—it stuck.
I was pregnant and I couldn’t leave the house because I was so fat. So, I went online and saw blogs were emerging. Since I had a background in journalism—I was a columnist before—I had thoughts of starting my own blog. So I did and I had 60 readers! That was way back in 2001. I was like “wow, people are reading my blog.” I realized that I had a voice, even if I was stuck in my house.
And then in 2004, I went to a party, and then 4 people told me “I read your blog.” I said “really?” So I decided to put a counter. And I was surprised that by 11:00 am, there were like 400 hits! Back then I remember saying “whoa, ang dami (that’s a lot)!”—but now it’s in the thousands.
It was when I went to that party back in 2004, that was the first time. We’re talking about a world without Facebook yet, no Twitter, no Instagram. The only thing you could read online was a blog. Back then I could do one million hits a month!
Now there are so many things on Facebook… not everyone will go to a blog, so [my traffic is] considerably less now. I think it peaked around 2008 to 2012… that was the peak of blogging.
No. Because it started as a hobby, and then I was so into it—there was a time when I didn’t even want to leave the house. If I got stuck in traffic for two hours, I could write multiple posts. I used to write like five times a day.
But then… I had no life. Now, I’m choosing to have a life.
Before, [bloggers] could say anything we wanted, you know… Now, everyone has an opinion.
Now, people are oversensitive, so I can’t say just anything anymore. Whatever I say might become an issue. So I write very differently now because I have to be nice. But even if I’m nice people are still… they’re like full of hate. So, I’m not the same writer as I used to be.
I want them to have fun, laugh at something, learn something. I want to influence how people think.
I want them to have fun, laugh at something, learn something. I want to influence how people think. I recently posted about the jail conditions in the Quezon City Jail because they look like sardines. It made me cry, really.
I [blogged about] it because I’m hoping that the president will do something, because I have been able to influence stuff. For example, the NAIA situation… I realized that even if I’m just working from my desk, I can influence how people think.
Unfortunately, when I posted the thing about the jail, the jejes (jejemons) saw the post on Facebook and they were saying things like “they deserve it” or “they had it coming because they’re evil.” I don’t see it that way, I think people deserve to sleep straight. Even if you’re a criminal, you deserve to sleep decently. And you can imagine their bathroom, what it looks like. It must be full of… (expletive) [laughs].
Yeah, I did. After journalism, I worked for Daily Globe and Teddy Boy Locsin was my boss. So every time I would be hard-hitting, he would pat me on the back or leave notes on my desk. Parang, he encourages me to be matapang (bold). But now he’s no longer my boss so he doesn’t have my back anymore. I’m scared na [smiles].
I hate them. I’ve been bullied so many times. I don’t have thick skin, I hate it. It makes me want to stop. Is that normal? I’m a normal person! I’m not that fearless anymore, not like when I was in my twenties. But these people only attack online! I’ve never been attacked outside… I’m still waiting for that day when someone will actually strangle me.
The criticisms have definitely affected how I write; I’m definitely not the same person. It goes with the changing of the roles online. Like what I said, before you could write about anything, now you will have to worry about trolls and jejemons.
I’ve always liked it [fashion] since I was thirteen. I wanted to meet cute guys [laughs]. So, I thought how can I meet cute guys? Originally, I wanted to be a menswear designer, but it didn’t happen. I ended up becoming a womenswear designer, instead.
Yeah! I have a collaboration with National Bookstore launching soon. They’re accessories like notebooks, stationaries, tote bags, stickers and a lot of other cool stuff. Fashion is still there. It’s always going to be there, but it’s not my main focus currently.
Grabe ka naman! Vetements. Okay, I’ll tell you what Vetements is.
A t-shirt is forty-five thousand pesos. Like one semester?! Alam mo, when I was [still studying] in UP, parang, three thousand [pesos] yung tuition. Magkano na ngayon? Kamusta yung banyo? [laughs]
To be honest, uh… I’m gonna get bashed. My dad taught me not to hold on to money so much, like, ‘wag maging kuripot (don’t be stingy).
I like sharing so I tend to give away a lot but it seems to come back to me even more. It’s like a curse that If I give someone a cellphone, someone gives me a nicer one in return.
So I don’t treat money like—I don’t hold on to it. I think it’s just the way I treat money that it comes back to me.
My husband handles all the money but I handle two bank accounts: one is my Chuvaness account, and the other one is our home account. I pay the bills at home—what my husband bothers with is the business side. At home, I’m the one in charge.
I want to retire next year [laughs]. But I won’t. We have a retirement account and I wouldn’t know what goes into managing it, but my husband is in charge.
I think everyone should prepare for retirement, because I hear most Filipinos aren’t inclined to saving, right? Then when they’re in the hospital they’ll need fundraisers? ‘Yoko ng ganun (I don’t want that) [laughs].
It’s not like a normal bank na nakapila lahat ng mga tao (where everyone is in a line). I feel like I go to a VIP branch.
I love it.
I just love it.
You know what, since we’ve been with them for years, it’s like they know us. So it’s easy to open an account and stuff. Or if something is fishy or seems out of place, they just give me a call and ask, “Did you write this check?” They’re just easy to work with.
Of course, the convenience of having a branch right under my office is nice, too. Would you know if the branch I go to is a special branch? Because the tables are round and the chairs are comfy. It’s not like a normal bank na nakapila lahat ng mga tao (where everyone is in a line). I feel like I go to a VIP branch
I don’t know. You know, I’m a person who doesn’t plan anything. I don’t make a life plan. I just… I feel like I’m just drifting and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I think I’m just winging it most days.
I used to be more ambitious when I was young—like, I wanted to do this and that. But when I grew up, I realized ‘di ko pala kaya (I couldn’t seem to do it) so I’d switch my sight to something else.
Then, when you become a mom your life becomes even more different—it’s no longer your own. Then, when you turn my age—I’m turning 50 next year—pagod ka na, sakit na ng likod mo (you’re tired, and your back starts to hurt) [laughs].
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Photography by Andrea Beldua