Dateline   |  January 06, 2014

'Second Chances' part 1

These teenagers say they’ve been teased and bullied at school because of their looks. They feel the bullies will never change, and so they all have decided to change themselves - through cosmetic surgery.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> reporter: your lives would be a complete mystery to us if we weren't sometimes haunted by our own teen years. the pressures to fit in, the anguish to be understood. it's a time when we first learn we could be alone even with people all around us.

>> people that have called me names are sitting over in the corner .

>> they would say i'm ugly. they would laugh behind my back. it was really bad at school.

>> people don't think jocks get bullied ortized, but in my case, i guess it's different.

>> reporter: these teens say they've been picked on, laughed at, even physically harassed, and they all blame the bullying on one thing, their looks.

>> they, like, refer to me as, like, an animal with a beak, making fun of me.

>> they would just call me that girl with the big nose.

>> why don't you have a chin? just go get a chin. buy one at walmart or something like that.

>> reporter: in an attempt to silence their bullies and rebuild their shattered self-confidence, they've all decided on the same extreme course of action, and we'll follow every step of their controversial pursuit, one with physical risks and psychological uncertainties.

>> i just really need help.

>> reporter: we begin their story with this girl from south carolina name ed renata .

>> a lot of the kids make fun of me how i look. it just really hurts, and you can't get over it.

>> reporter: when we first met her, she was 14 and would spend her days almost entirely at home, watching tv or playing video games .

>> she has no friends. she keeps to herself. she's just missing out on things that can never be replaced later on.

>> reporter: but renata 's mom, michelle, says it wasn't always like this. describe her back then. what kind of little girl was she?

>> very outgoing. a ton of friends. she was involved with different social activities.

>> contestant number 13 .

>> reporter: including beauty pageants . renata competed in a few of them when she was 8. now, what made you interested?

>> i just liked dressing up and being pretty.

>> reporter: uh-huh.

>> and i liked being in front of people.

>> reporter: but by the sixth grade, something happened to renata .

>> she became more quiet, more and more withdrawn as the months went on. i asked her what was wrong. she would say, "nothing's wrong. nothing's wrong."

>> reporter: renata resisted going to school, complaining that she felt ill each morning or that she wasn't learning anything in class. after months of struggling, michelle decided to home school renata through online classes .

>> i didn't want to see her come home from school every day and be unhappy. i don't want to see my child unhappy.

>> we talked for a little while.

>> reporter: but it took renata two more years before she finally told her mother the truth. she didn't want to go to school because some classmates had teased her about her nose. they would call her ugly. why wouldn't you say to your mom, mom, look. these kids are starting to pick on me, and i'm getting depressed.

>> i told her at school it made more problems.

>> reporter: did you think maybe what they're saying is true?

>> mm-hmm.

>> reporter: you were in pageants.

>> yeah.

>> reporter: same faced-girl. why can a kid change your mind about who you are, do you think? i know it's hard, sweetie. i know it's hard. renata was so depressed by age 13 , she would hardly leave the house. when her mother made an appointment for her to see a mental health counselor , renata refused to go.

>> i'll be back in a few minutes.

>> reporter: but then she decided there was only up with way to make things better, to change her looks through cosmetic surgery .

>> every time i look at myself, i just think i'm getting more uglier. i'm just afraid i'll never have any friends or anyone to be there for me. because i can't really leave the house ever. i don't want people to see me.

>> reporter: while many adults unhappy with their looks turn to cosmetic surgery , it may seem like a radical response to bullying, especially for a teen who's still growing physically and mentally. might renata grow out of this? because in life, we all do go through phases. i hate my hair. now it's not so bad. i thought my name was weird. now i'm so glad i have a weird name. in the beginning, i was just, like, i just want to be helen. do you wonder if this is just a phase you're going through?

>> i don't think it's just a phase. i guess in a few years from now if i didn't change anything, i would still feel the same way because of what the kids were saying about me. i would still feel bad about it and everything.

>> reporter: the cost of elective surgery , however, made it an impossible solution for renata and her mom. but then they heard about another 14-year-old girl who said she was bullied because of her looks and transformed her appearance through surgery donated by a nonprofit group called the little babyface foundation. after seeing that story on the news, renata 's mom made a call.

>> i spoke to a lady. i believe her name was diane. and she told me that i needed to submit an application online for renata .

>> hi, my name is renata .

>> reporter: and so renata 's journey would begin with this, the story in this letter.

>> i tried convincing myself that i'm fine the way i am, but i just don't believe it anymore.