I truly believe in the power of a great red lipstick. Gliding on the colour of berries on my lips, or simply smudging a bit of rose to achieve the lip tint effect, never fails to give me a little mood boost, as my face automatically just looks a little less tired and a bit brighter.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

I remember buying my first red lipstick; it was at a CVS in LA four years ago, and it barely cost $2, and I didn’t think much about how that would eventually transform the way I’d start doing my makeup or how I’d dress. All I knew then was just how fun it was to play dress up again, as if I was five and my Mother had made the mistake of leaving me in the same room as her three-tier makeup box. That progressed from messing about in my bedroom, to wearing lipstick to classes when I felt like wearing something more than a giant hoodie and jeans, to weekend outings at Santa Monica and Hollywood, and I found a certain freedom in allowing myself to embrace this new look on myself.

Before I knew it, I’d become a lippie junkie, buying a new colour or two every time I wanted to perk myself up, or reward myself for an A for that assignment I’d done the night before the deadline, or when there was a new collection release at my nearest drugstores. While I did indulge in a few plums and pinks, my mainstay were crimsons and rubies, just because they’d look good with pretty much any outfit I’d throw on for the day.

And I got used to it. My roommate got used to it (and helped me out with some of my favourite looks). My other housemates couldn’t really care less.

And then I came back home, to the other side of the world, and that was when I realised that the people I’ve grown up with had no idea of the transitions I’ve made, among other things. Before I’d left, the most I’d put on my lips was a tinted lip balm, maybe a toned down, warm pink I’d received as a gift, if I was feeling a little daring. Back then, most of my makeup consisted of eyeliner… And that was it. (My current eyebrows refused to speak of their shameful, sparse past.) When I returned, I was swiping on bright reds and garnets and that was certainly an adjustment for my social circles.

My parents didn’t have much to say about it, considering they were with me during my boots and jeggings phases before that, and the only complaint my mother had was that I didn’t have enough “normal” colours (I assume she meant soft pinks, because she “borrowed” half of my collection of nude and pink lipsticks and I’ve not seen them since). My sisters had pretty much figured out that I was possibly the most eccentric one of all of us, and my best friend raised her eyebrows at me the first time we’d met after a year, but she was too preoccupied with mothering me due to my weight loss back then.

However, everyone else wasn’t as subtle, or as kind about it.

I’d forgotten the exact things people have said to me about this transformation of mine then, but I do remember valiantly insisting that I was still the same person, just with some extra colours on my face. Or rather, just one extra colour. I remember how they’d say that I’d changed, that I was colder, a little more distant, shallower, even, and that my outward appearance had inevitably contributed to that. That I wasn’t the nice, quaint girl anymore.

And that was painful, because the truth was that between living alone and having to grow up five years too fast, I’d realised that there was more to life than being constantly accommodating. That it was okay to not have to rush to reply every single menial text. That being selfish isn’t a desirable trait, but there’s a thin line between being selfless and being a doormat, and I was teetering on that line for the past few years.

I’m not saying that my red lipsticks helped me to achieve this epiphany, but sometimes, it takes an outward change to understand that a part of you has shifted in a sense. Your priorities at 18 aren’t going to be the same when you’re 22, or 25 or even 26. What’s more important is knowing that change isn’t always a bad thing, but it takes a while for people to see that. Fast forward four years and people barely bat an eyelid now at the ranges of colours that have graced my lips, but it wasn’t easy. People will comment, and judge, but honestly? They’re not the ones dropping cash for your lipstick collection, so let your lips do the talking for once, and take a cute selfie while you’re at it, too.