Pop quiz: You are an obituary writer tasked with memorializing an accomplished, world-famous woman. Should you lead off with:a) An unfavorable reference to her weight/looksb) A mention of her killer Beef Stroganoff recipec) Something about her numerous achievementsThe answer, sadly, is not C.Colleen McCullough, who died last week at the age of 77, was an Australian novelist whose most popular book, The Thorn Birds, also became an iconic TV miniseries. But you’ll have to dig through her obituary in order to find that information, because the (male, obviously) author of her obituary in the Australian Photograph decided to lead off with the following sentence: “Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless a woman of wit and warmth.”Mentioning someone’s looks in their obituary is a pretty shitty thing to do, even if the mention is complimentary. But to insult someone’s appearance, especially when that person has just died, seems unnecessary at best and cruel at worst. McCullough’s achievements are myriad: She wrote 25 novels and had a distinguished career in science before pursuing literature. The Thorn Birds sold nearly 30 million copies around the world, which is more than Portnoy’s Complaint or Infinite Jest. But because McCullough committed the cardinal sin of being a female human, even in death she will be more judged for her body than for her body of work.McCullough’s sexist obituary immediately brought comparisons to the New York Times‘ memorialization of rocket scientist Yvonne Brill (ICYMI, she was praised for her beef Stroganoff recipe instead of, you know, rocket science.) And it also highlights how women’s looks are still considered fair game in obituaries, even when it’s because the woman was considered a beauty.Consider the recent passing of Lauren Bacall, for example. Although Bacall was a Tony Award-winning actress and the recipient of a National Book Award, many articles about her death focused on the fact that she was beautiful. Compared with epitaphs for comedian Robin Williams, who died the day before her, the contrast was even more stark: numerous writers wrote eulogies for Williams that focused on his career and his talent. The difference was stunning. When I pointed out this hypocrisy on Twitter, many people agreed with me, but many others also rushed to point out that Bacall was, indeed, beautiful, so what’s the big deal? Bacall’s beauty isn’t in question here — the issue was why it was more important than any of her other achievements. Her awards were things that she earned; her looks were something she just so happened to have.When trying to decide if something is sexist, one good strategy is to reverse the gender of the person being discussed and then see if it looks odd. Would an obituary of, say, Ernest Hemingway mention the fact that he was overweight? Would a eulogy for Albert Einstein ever include a reference to his cooking skills? The answer is, of course, no. Regardless of what she looked like, Colleen McCullough deserves as much respect in death as either of these men got in life. Luckily, thanks to the swift and wide backlash to her ill-thought-out Australian Photograph obituary means that she just might get it – even if it’s just a P.S.