My Top Five Medium Stories in 2020

And what I learned about the world and my writing

I’ve been as absent from this platform as I’ve ever been.

My first published story went live on Medium in . Which feels simultaneously as if it were yesterday and a lifetime ago. I wrote it in response to a Human Parts prompt and it was immensely helpful for me as I worked through some lingering body image issues. It was the summer before I turned 30. I had just finalized my divorce. Work was steady but routine, and I needed a creative outlet, so I finally transitioned from Medium reader to Medium writer.

Since then, I’ve published nearly 100 pieces, with a respectable 55.3% curation rate. Of my last 15 stories, 13 were curated. And I admit, that was part of the fun. The game, if you will.

I liked the sense that my writing was deemed “high quality” by someone other than me, though I admit I felt disappointed when a piece I really loved failed to meet those opaque standards. And with the recent changes in curation disabling a writer’s ability to see which categories they were curated in…well, it’s just not the same.

That was part of why I wrote less in the past five months. After a consistent start to 2020, even in the midst of the pandemic, my writing remained steady. Until it didn’t. I was burnt out, lacking motivation and inspiration, and more often than not, just wanted to trudge through the days on autopilot.

I can’t be alone in feeling that way — I genuinely believed the pandemic would not explode into what it did, and that by the end of the year, we’d know where things were going. By summer, when the second wave hit, it became clear that was a massively incorrect assumption.

But despite that dip in activity, views, reads, and earnings remained level. I’ve acquired over 1300 followers (thank you to any of you who are reading this!) and though I no longer compulsively check my stats, I can see that some readers remained engaged with my writing on the rare instances I managed to get something published in the last few months.

Now that we’re in the waning days of 2020, I looked back to see which stories were the cream of the crop. Based on reads, here’s where we ended up.

The 2020 Halftime Show Isn’t About Objectifying Women

Ah, February 2020…the “Before Times” when we could concern ourselves with such things as the set design and costumes of the Super Bowl Halftime performance.

I think this story resonated for a few reasons.

One, it was timely. It was one of those occasions where something happened in pop culture or media and I was in the headspace to whip out something quickly, while it was still relevant. Views all but disappeared by the beginning of March, and even though it was curated in multiple categories, most views were external so it wasn’t a huge earner.

But I also tried to connect the dots for readers, between what I was seeing through my lens and what it looked like on the surface. Sure, we can be entertained for entertainment’s sake. There is value in that. But I saw this performance as a powerful feminist statement on one of the world’s biggest stages, and I hoped the story would help others see it that way, too.

Or, at the very least, keep their unsolicited comments about women’s bodies and their choices to themselves.

Stop Saying We’re All In This Together

This was born out of my utter distaste for the whole “we’re all in the same boat!” rhetoric of early quarantine.

Remember that totally tone-deaf “Imagine” rendition with all the celebrities holed up in their mansions? That played out on the national stage, but on a smaller scale, I was getting more of the same from colleagues, friends, and family.

Around this time, I was deep into an anti-racism course that began before quarantine. I was working hard to challenge what I believed I knew to be true about inequality, systemic racism, privilege, and social injustices. Writing was one way to help me synthesize what I was learning, but also what I was feeling. Not everything needs to be an intellectual endeavor and seeing the stark disparities in my community and beyond gave me a lot of clarity on this.

I think a lot of people felt similarly, as it is one of my most highlighted stories. I hope that means people were really taking those words to heart and thinking deeply about what American culture and society need to look like for it to be truly equitable and safe for all people.

Jillian Michaels is Forgetting One Important Thing

This next story was published very early in 2020. In January, personal trainer Jillian Michaels of “The Biggest Loser” spouted off about Lizzo, the singer-songwriter.

Lizzo is a fat, Black woman who advocates for body acceptance and unapologetic living. Jillian Michaels is a thin, white woman who’s career blossomed after she became known for her borderline abusive tactics on a reality TV show.

See where this is going?

This incident was a case study in how we internalize harmful, stigmatizing beliefs about health and weaponize them against both individual people and society as a whole. When a celebrity or influencer reiterates them or digs their heals into the concern-trolling “it’s about health!” argument, we see the intersection of fatphobia and body policing. Combine that with the dynamics of race and white supremacy’s need to dominate the narrative and maintain control of what is deemed “worthy” or “valuable” and yeah, it gets messy.

As with the first story, most of these views are external, but nearly 2,000 of them have come from Google. I’d venture to guess the next time she talks out of her ass about something and people flock to the nearest search engine, this story will continue to get a few hits.

You’re Not Stress-Eating, You’re Surviving

This next one was an interesting blend of my professional work as a non-diet dietitian, current events, and a little neuroscience. It was also my first submission to Invisible Illness.

I spend a decent chunk of my time convincing people that emotional eating is not the devil it’s made out to be. It serves a function, and during a pandemic, it might be the singular coping mechanism within reach for some people.

I am not an expert in trauma, but I do strive to offer trauma-informed care to the people I work with. Meaning, I do as much as I can to educate myself on what is potentially triggering or traumatizing and do everything within my power to reduce or eliminate it. Gaining a deeper understanding of trauma and how it impacts our bodies was key in understanding the why behind emotional eating, also known as stress eating, comfort cravings, or similar.

It seemed a lot of people were seeking permission to eat — something that is a birthright. Which saddens me, but also speaks volumes to how fucked up our collective relationship with food is. I don’t know if this story helped anyone truly work through all their hang-ups about food, trauma, and eating during a pandemic, but I hope it gave them some peace in the moment. It was shared widely on Facebook when it was first published at the end of March 2020, and though it doesn’t get much (if any) traffic now, it’s still one of the Medium stories I’m most proud of.

I’m In the Minority, But I’m Not A “Minority”

This final story was also the product of my interrogation of identity, race, and language. All my life, as a mixed-race Korean American woman, I’d believed myself to be a minority. The label was simple, widely-accepted, and repeated by enough reputable sources that I never once thought to question it.

That is, until one day in my anti-racism course when I used it in a response to a question. The instructor, Monique, picked up on it right away and shared an alternative way of thinking about it. If anyone who isn’t white is a minority, what is that saying about whiteness? What is that saying about everyone else?

This story doesn’t have the most claps, the most comments, the most views. It’s made virtually no money. But it has led to numerous deep conversations, podcast interviews, and additional questioning. That’s invaluable, especially when I hear my partner, a white man, contradict and correct the term “minority” whenever he hears it.

Earnings

As a reward for reading to the bottom, here you go. I know it’s the juicy stuff all Medium writers want to know: how much money did you make?

Now, this may (or may not) come as a shock to you, but I haven’t quit my day job yet. Writing on Medium, at least for me, has never been about the money. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t secretly hope that one day a story would go mega-viral and earn enough to pad my savings a little more or splurge on something nice.

Anyway…that hasn’t happened yet. I typically earn less than $15-20 per month when I’m not actively writing and publishing, maybe up to $60–70 when I am. El-oh-el, right?

Here’s what my top five raked in for 2020:

  1. $19.25
  2. $25.36
  3. $42.35
  4. $22.85
  5. $6.67

That gives us a grand total of…drumroll please…$116.48. Certainly not enough to pad my savings by much, but nothing to feel ashamed about either. As I said earlier, the money earned through writing is just icing on the cake, as that was never the goal.

My writing style and skills continue to evolve, as does the world around me. I feel more informed, more inquisitive, more reflective than I did at this time last year. I can see the nuance and intricacies of every situation with more clarity than I did before, and as a result, I can see the story in everything.

The biggest challenge is summoning the energy and time to put pen to paper, or I suppose, fingers to keyboard. I don’t know yet if 2021 will be the year I return to publishing on Medium with the same cadence as before. But I know it’s still a community where I enjoy spending time, so thank you. Even if I don’t publish a single story, I know I’ll still learn new facts, perspectives, and stories that I’d otherwise never see or hear.

If you’re someone who read one or more of my top five stories from this year, I’d love to know what hit home for you! Are there any similarities with any of your top stories?

Lover of carbs and puns, call me Cara Carbstreet | Anxious Millennial | Coffee Enthusiast | Non-diet Dietitian

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