First, a confession: I have only recently woken up to the joy of drag. I know, I know, more fool me. But as a straight female who struggles to find matching socks to put on in the morning – let alone attach a false eyelash – the wigs, nails and makeup never felt particularly relevant to my life. When I think about femininity at all, it tends to be in terms of the less glamorous stuff. You know: childbirth, the pay gap, workplace discrimination. That kind of thing.

So my passion for the first British series of RuPaul’s Drag Race – it’s the talent show’s grand final tonight – has come as a complete surprise. I never watched the US version, so it’s all new to me: the bizarre range of skills required of contestants, from constructing tailored skirts out of rubber gloves to imitating Donald Trump; the extravagantly bitchy behaviour (or “shade” in drag parlance); the sheer quantity and colour of the foundation. Partly, of course, what I love is pure froth – the sequins! The frocks! – but it’s deeper than that too. Drag Race has been a reminder of something that almost 10 years of working motherhood had all but battered out of me: being a woman can be fun.

For the contestants on Drag Race, of course, dressing up is a serious business – their skill is to do it with a playful attitude. To say that these queens are imitating women is to misrepresent the scale of their ambition: during the course of the series, we have seen them hit the runway dressed as postage stamps, jockeys, chainsaw-wielding cyberpunks, rainstorms and mutant eyeballs. When it comes to appearances, there is no limit to their creativity and sense of fun. If I could bring even one iota of that joy to the process of getting dressed in the morning, I would consider it a win.

As a common-or-garden female, the task of presenting yourself to the world can feel like a never-ending grind. In her memoir Becoming, Michelle Obama noted the amount of energy and the hours she had to put into her hair, makeup and clothes prior to every public appearance – while Barack could pretty much bung yesterday’s suit on and skip out of the door (I paraphrase slightly). To a less extreme degree, it’s a gripe that many women will share: why do we have to think so hard about whether this particular top is too low cut for work, or how often we should shell out for a vastly overpriced haircut? If you’re a fashionista, you’ll enjoy making these choices; if you’d really rather be getting on with writing your novel, or becoming a world-champion tennis player, or inventing the self-cleaning toaster, it is yet another irritating drain on your much-needed energy.

The Vivienne

The Vivienne: ‘Last week, as I watched The Vivienne apply yet another layer of mauve (mauve?!?) foundation, the thought struck me: maybe I, too, should drag up once in a while.’ Photograph: Ian West/PA

But then, one way or another, we all have to choose our armour. RuPaul is fond of saying: “We are born naked – the rest is drag.” Whether you are a dishevelled academic or a slick-bobbed fashion editor, your public face is just one part of you. There will be times when the dishevelled academic yearns for a designer dress; the fearsome fashion editor will occasionally slob out in front of the telly. It’s helpful to remember, when you scroll through Twitter or Instagram, that what you are seeing is effectively a parade of people in drag: perfect-mother drag, successful-writer drag, troll drag. Behind their chosen masks, all human beings are infinitely complex; but to survive in this mediated world, we tend to create some kind of legible identity, and perform it.

Last week, as I watched drag queen The Vivienne apply yet another layer of mauve (mauve?!?) foundation, the thought struck me: maybe I too should drag up once in a while. This may not, in my case, involve dressing up as an eyeball or a rainstorm (although you never know). But taking a more playful, experimental attitude towards my public face might be fun and feel more authentic than sticking to the same tired formula day in, day out. I’d always thought of drag as a scene based on adopting a “fake” identity, but watching the series has shown me that when the queens put on their costumes, they are not only hiding themselves but also really showing themselves – in all their ridiculous, beautiful and messy glory.

So perhaps in some sense we all need to know how to get our giant wigs on, don our catsuits, and hit that runway – because after all, being yourself should be fun. As Mama Ru would say, “can I get an Amen up in here?”

Alice O’Keefe’s novel On the Up is published by Coronet

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