How Model & Designer Rocky Barnes Became an Impossibly Cool Influencer

Barnes has modeled for American Eagle, Sam Edelman, and Billabong, and appeared in the video for Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend.”

Matthew Cooper

What do you get when you combine eye-popping beauty with a globetrotting lifestyle, and sprinkle in some martial arts? Impossibly cool influencer, model, and blogger Rocky Barnes. 

Matthew Cooper

Everything about her is exquisite and captivating; at once laid back and playfully edgy. Barnes, whose real name is Rachel, is a California native who personifies the sunny, beachy vibe of the Golden State. She’s a fresh-faced brunette with perfectly pouty lips and sun-kissed skin, her athletic figure lithe and elegant. 

Matthew Cooper

Not only is she drop-dead gorgeous, but she’s also a martial arts master. “A lot of people would be surprised to know I’m a black belt in Tae Kwon Do,” she laughs, her voice warm and velvety. “It’s my party trick.” It’s a whimsical thought to picture her swinging a roundhouse kick after a breezy photoshoot on the beach. 

Her background in such a sport would also explain her flawless physique, strong and toned to perfection. Clearly, Barnes has a magnetic je ne sais quoi about her that has garnered over two million Instagram followers. 

Matthew Cooper

Her feed (@rocky_barnes), serving as a photo diary of glamorous trips most of us could only dream of going on, is enough to induce a serious case of wanderlust. Her steamy bikini shots aren’t hard on the eyes, either. 

Barnes jumped right into the modeling world after graduating from college, and with her natural beauty and sweet charisma, it’s no surprise that her career took off without skipping a beat. 

She scored multiple modeling campaigns for names like American Eagle, Sam Edelman, and Billabong Australia. And even if you don’t follow fashion, you may have seen her in the music video for Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend.” 

She joined Instagram in its early days nearly 10 years ago, just as the platform was gaining traction. “Every variation of Rachel Barnes was already taken,” she says. So, she went with the handle Rocky Barnes. The inspiration for the name? “Rocky is a common nickname for Rachel. My mom would call me that!” 

Thus, her famous social media persona was born and she promptly established herself as one of the OG influencers of beachy boho style. “I got in at just the right time,” she says. Her social media presence is amplified by the success of her blog that’s been steadily gaining popularity since she started it seven years ago.

Now 35, Barnes is exactly where she wants to be in life, having recently launched her own brand The Bright Side, where she’s dreamed up a unisex line of luxe loungewear. “It’s been such a labor of love,” she says. “The only job I’ve ever wanted since I was a kid was to be a designer.” 

Her career isn’t the only thing she has going for her, because Barnes also lucked out in the relationship department. Her husband Matthew Cooper has a background in finance, but decided to pick up a camera and sign up for a photography class after accompanying Barnes on a work trip. He’s now the eye behind the lens for many of her photoshoots, campaigns, and social media posts. 

“I feel very lucky to be able to work with Matt, but working with your partner can have its challenging moments,” she says. “But I think Matt and I complement each other very well. He’s helped me grow my business so much and is such an amazing photographer—and sometimes stylist…. We live together, work together, have a kid together. We fight, but it works.”

 In January 2020 Barnes added the important title of “mom” to her impressive resume when she welcomed her son Jones, which she says was the “silver lining to a crazy year.” 

While the immediate future seems foggy for the entire world, Barnes has a clear vision of how she wants her life to shape up in the long run. 

“Everything is kind of up in the air right now,” she says, echoing the sentiments we all currently share. But she has grand plans for herself. “I’m excited to work on growing my brand in the next few years, and I love the idea of adding baby, home, and maybe even beauty!” 

And even further down the line? “My husband and I always joke that when we’re older we want to have a bed and breakfast together. He loves to cook and I love to host! I’ve also always loved the idea of having a little flower shop, too,” she says, painting an idyllic portrait of a life perfect for someone as sunny as Rocky Barnes.

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Zeynep Yenisey